Make Reconstruction History Visible April 1, 2018

The first National Park Service monument to Reconstruction is in Beaufort, South Carolina.

The “Make Reconstruction History Visible” mapping project is an opportunity for students and teachers to identify and advocate for public recognition of Reconstruction history in their community and the significant accomplishments made by newly freed people and their white allies.

This project, a part of the Teach Reconstruction campaign, helps students learn about this vital era in U.S. history while also playing an active role in giving visibility to an era that has been hidden or misrepresented for too long.

For example, in Charleston County, South Carolina, of the nearly 200 historical markers, the first to commemorate Reconstruction history was not erected until March of 2018. The first National Park Service National Monument was dedicated in January of 2017 in Beaufort, South Carolina, after a 25-year campaign for recognition.

For this project, students (individually or as a class) are invited to identify and document accomplishments in Reconstruction history such as schools, hospitals, election sites, Freedmen’s Bureau offices, Black churches, Black newspapers, Black owned businesses, prominent individuals, organizations, key events, and more. Students can also document white vigilante violence.

Some resources for exploring local and state Reconstruction history are listed at the end this page. In addition, to help identify sites in a particular community, the Zinn Education Project can connect teachers to our contacts at the National Park Service, the respective state historical society, and/or our advisors for the #TeachReconstruction project.

An example of a plaque (or marker) about Reconstruction history.

After students identify a site and write text for a plaque, they can submit the information (along with images) for the Make Reconstruction History Visible online map. Each entry will credit the student or class that contributed the information. Through this process, students will learn how to research and document local history. The stories will be shared via the popular Zinn Education Project “This Day in History” social media series with credit to the respective student and/or class for the research and writing.

Zinn Education Project staff will be available to offer guidance about researching Reconstruction history in the students’s school district.  ZEP staff are also available to work with students (individually or as a class) to pursue making the plaque official.

How to Participate

Online form iconTeachers in elementary, middle, and high school can work with their students to submit draft text, images, and source documentation for Reconstruction history in their community via this online form. The entries can be done as a class, a team of students, or individually.

This information will be shared publicly on the map below, so it is important that it be accurate, correctly sourced, and the draft text for the plaque should be in students own words.

This project is ideal as a culminating activity after engaging in a lesson(s) on Reconstruction era history.

Here are the steps to take:

  • Invite students to identify Reconstruction era history in their community. Students can works individually or in small groups to explore key events and institutions: schools, hospitals, election sites, Freedmen’s Bureau offices, Black churches, Black newspapers, Black owned businesses, prominent individuals, organizations, conventions, teachers’ homes, etc. If help is needed, we recommend contacting your respective state historical society and referring to the resources listed at the end of this page. If additional help is needed, contact the Zinn Education Project for suggestions of books and/or scholars for your state.
  • Have students research the history of the institution, person, or event – keeping a detailed list of all their sources.
  • If there is a physical location, have students take a photo of the site. Cell phone photos are fine, using the best resolution possible. If there is not a physical location, they should try to identify historical images that connect to the site.
  • If there is not already a marker for the site, or if there is a marker that does not connect the site to the Reconstruction era, have students draft the text, following the regulations for the respective state. For example, Alabama allows up to 15 lines with 43 spaces per line. (Read more at the Alabama Historical Association.)
  • Once you (the teacher) have reviewed and corrected the text, you or the student(s) can upload the text and images on this online form. The form has three sections:

(1) the site or event

(2) images

(3) the student, teacher, and school. Note that this section of the form invites students to submit their own photo or a class photo. This is optional and depends on the image sharing policies at the school.

  • The Zinn Education Project will review the information and get back to you within two weeks to indicate that the entry is on the Make Reconstruction History Visible Map or with a request for more information.
  • Once posted, the Zinn Education Project will send a sample press release that the school or school district can use to announce the students’ role in researching and documenting Reconstruction era history.

Advocating for an official plaque or monument is an optional next step. In many states, this requires both making the case that it is historically significant and raising the funds for a marker. Here, for example, are the steps and fees for South Carolina and Alabama.

Additional Considerations and Ideas

Geography: While our focus is the South, we want students to explore and recognize that Reconstruction affected the whole nation. When enslaved people became free and won the right to vote, something that had previously seemed impossible, was made possible. This unleashed an era of struggle that extended beyond African American rights in the South and included the fight for women’s rights and workers’ rights in the North across the country. Similarly, the anti-racist movement and the subsequent backlash in the South had profound implications for Black rights in the North as well as the struggles of Indians and Chinese laborers in the West. Let the Zinn Education Project team know if you need help identifying Reconstruction era history for your community. We will tap the expertise of our #TeachReconstruction advisors.

Similar projects: In addition to submitting text and images to the Make Reconstruction History Visible map, students can introduce the history to their peers, family, and community in various ways. For example, they could create a mini museum in their classroom to introduce fellow students and parents to this crucial history. (A Colorado teacher had her high school students create monuments to hidden history. While not on Reconstruction, the projects provide ideas of the varied ways students can represent the history they have learned.) Students could offer guided tours of Reconstruction history in their community. They could also submit entries to National History Day.

Resources

Below are selected texts, articles, and archival data bases on the Reconstruction era by region or state. The books listed below and many more can be found on these two lists of recommended books and films on the Reconstruction era at the Zinn Education Project (classroom lessons and books for grades 4-12) and Social Justice Books (scholarly texts for background reading.) We welcome additional suggestions.

Multiple States

Colored Conventions: Starting in 1830 and continuing through Reconstruction,  African Americans came together in state and national political conventions. They strategized about how they might achieve educational, labor, and legal justice. The Colored Conventions archival website includes information and documentation about the conventions in states throughout the U.S.

Last Seen: Finding Family after Slavery: An archive of thousands of “Information Wanted” advertisements taken out by people freed from slavery who are searching for family members who had been sold apart. The “Mapping the Ads” page highlights the ads by location in the U.S.

National Park Service (NPS) Landmark Theme Study on the Era of Reconstruction by Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur. This NPS booklet provides an excellent overview of Reconstruction history and concludes with a list of significant sites in Reconstruction history in many states.

Alabama

The Union League Movement in the Deep South by Michael Fitzgerald.

Florida

Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing & White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920 by Paul Ortiz.

Georgia

Freedom’s Shore: Tunis Campbell and the Georgia Freedmen by Russell Duncan.

Louisiana

Charles Roudanez and New Orleans Tribune Archive of the work of Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez, founder of the first Black daily newspaper in the U.S., the New Orleans Tribune, with articles, excerpts, videos, and a timeline.

The Thibodaux Massacre Left 60 African-Americans Dead and Spelled the End of Unionized Farm Labor in the South for Decades. This article in the Smithsonian Magazine by Calvin Schermerhorn explains how in 1887, African-American cane workers in Louisiana attempted to organize—and many paid with their lives.

Mississippi

The Free State of Jones by Victoria E. Bynum.

Reconstructing Democracy: Grassroots Black Politics in the Deep South after the Civil War by Justin Behrend.

The Union League Movement in the Deep South by Michael Fitzgerald.

Virginia

‘A powerful story’: How freed slaves helped shape Virginia after the Civil War by Gregory S. Schneider. This Washington Post article gives great leads for Virginia teachers and students on Reconstruction history.

Washington, D.C.

An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C. by Kate Masur.

Western States

West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America After the Civil War by Heather Richardson.


Teachers and students: Thank you for interest in helping to
“Make Reconstruction History Visible” in your community.

Contact the Zinn Education Project if you have questions or need assistance.


 

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