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When Black Lives Mattered: Why Teach Reconstruction


When Black Lives Mattered: Why Teach Reconstruction

Adam Sanchez

Reconstruction, the era immediately following the Civil War and emancipation, is full of stories that help us see the possibility of a future defined by racial equity


Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is a must read in my opinion. It illuminates myriad complexities of the country and specifically, its PEOPLE. Here is a link to a free version:



I always found it inexplicable the way reconstruction was, and presumably still is taught in all US schools - even in the supposedly more-enlightened north. All I recall about those lessons was something about these white people called “carpetbaggers and scalawags” who were bad people, and “Radical Republicans” who were bad-bad-bad!

They never mentioned anything about what the millions of ex-slaves were accomplishing except to depict them as helpless rag-dolls, somewhere in the background, without agency absent well-meaning moderate whites like President Grant.

And so, it was not until I was almost 50, and I saw a play about Ida B. Wells, then some further reading, that I learned that for a brief period, substantial number of black were in southern state legislatures and even some in the US House and Senate, and black-owned shops business and farms became fairly common throughout the deep south, and that all the savagery that came to be known a “Jim Crow” only happened later as a massive backlash starting in the late 1870s.

To say that history lessons in US schools are infantile would be an understatement.


I read that they are still teaching the Dunning School of Reconstruction history in Texas.


I only learned what the “Dunning School” was while researching Wikipedia for my comment above. (I usually do a cursory self-fact-check when commenting here - I would like to think that other commenters do too). That was petty much the version of Reconstruction I learned in Virginia in the late 1960s-1970s.

In 7th grade, a semester of Virginia History was required in all public schools. The textbook we used outright defended slavery. I still remember my more-enlightened teacher, Mr. Lilly, from western Pennsylvania trashing the textbook as terribly biased when we reached that chapter and asked us to skip it…


Good on your teacher. It’s insane the Dunning School is still given credence. Reconstruction historian Kenneth Stamp pretty much wrecked it in the 1950s.


And finally, are you surprised that there is so little interest in this article? For as radical-left as the Commondreams commentership (and presumably, readership) try to present themselves. I have always found it disturbing how little interest they have regarding issues of racism, and also, organized labor.


Don’t forget the electoral vote, Hayes and the Compromise of 1877. So much to be learned…the first africans to arrive in British North America in 1609, before the Mayflower…Fort Mose, Florida founded in 1738 as the first free black settlement until the Brits took it over. Slabtown…Seneca Village…Weeksville…Greenwood…Jackson Ward…Rosewood…Freedman’s Village…Allensworth…Davis Bend…Muchakinock…Buxton…Five Points…New Philadelphia…an endless list of amazing and thriving black communities.