Mark McDonald on teaching Reconstruction

I had a wonderful experience with the Reconstruction Role Play activity when teaching Reconstruction to my Race and Membership elective. The elective itself is about developing Race Relations throughout US History, from the origins of slavery to the present day. We look at a number of issues, but Reconstruction and its aftermath is a central element to the course. Because I teach in Memphis, I also encounter many students who have never really studied this period of history and among many of their families, the “Lost Cause” myth of the Confederacy is alive and well. This becomes very clear when we’ve held discussions about the role of Confederate Statues, how we memorialize certain periods in our history, and how we look at and come to terms with the history of our city and region.

The Reconstruction Role Play was very helpful in getting my students to the point where we could analyze the lives of those most affected by the events of this era. Stepping into the shoes of former slaves and white southerners, wrestling with the interactions between these groups, wrestling with the conflicting interests of these groups, and evaluating why Northerners eventually washed their hands of reconstruction efforts helped my kids begin to see this period for what it was.

I also supplemented this resource with materials from the Equal Justice Initiative, the documentary “13th” on Netflix, and readings from the Facing History and Ourselves Reconstruction textbook. I think that this time period is an essential history for our students to confront, especially in light of various current events. From incidents of police brutality, persisting mass incarceration rates, and the use of the death penalty and prison labor to the rise of white supremacy, the Charlottesville riots, and growing inequality across our nation, our kids need to know about the roots of these issues more than ever before.