From Florida to Oregon: Reconstruction Throughout the United States

This black and white photograph shows John Summer and his family standing in front of their home located two miles northeast of Dunlap, Morris County, Kansas. The home was built in the 1880s.

Family in Kansas, Reconstruction Era. Source: Kansas Historical Society

Most state standards and textbooks frame Reconstruction as a Southern story, but grassroots struggles for justice met resistance in the North and to the west.

That is why one of the recommendations in our report, Erasing the Black Freedom Struggle is to “Emphasize the significance of Reconstruction throughout the United States.”

From Black residents nurturing communities and battling segregation on local levels, to legislators working on state and federal Reconstruction laws, to Indigenous peoples navigating expanding and constricting definitions of citizenship, people across the country had a stake in Reconstruction. Our curriculum should reflect this. Reconstruction is not someone else’s legacy — it belongs to all of us.

If classroom practice follows state standards, few students outside of the South learn that their states are often full of Reconstruction-era sites and stories. Here are just two examples.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Photo of Octavius CattoPennsylvania’s standards barely mention Reconstruction, let alone the dramatic fight for Black civil and political rights.

Pennsylvania is home to a great deal of Reconstruction history, including the story of Octavius Catto, a leader in Pennsylvania’s State Equal Rights League, organizing with his community for Black suffrage, equal education and opportunities for Black students, and the desegregation of streetcars and baseball leagues.

White vigilantes murdered Catto on Election Day in 1871.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Historian Alaina Roberts recently joined our Teach the Black Freedom Struggle online class.

She discussed Reconstruction era connections between Black freedom and Native American citizenship in the context of westward expansion onto Native land with a focus on Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Reconstruction standards are also largely framed around national politics and Southern white backlash. Instead the standards could center Black people’s agency and advancements, and the experiences of Native Americans — including in Oklahoma itself.

Read Reconstruction Report

What Students Should Learn About Reconstruction

The report includes Ten Points Everyone Should Learn About Reconstruction. Compare these to your state standards and assigned textbooks.

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