Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution: Teaching a People’s History of Reconstruction

Background Reading for Teachers. By Bill Bigelow. 4 pages.
A review of Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution, a collection of primary documents for high school on the Civil War and Reconstruction.

  • Time Periods: Reconstruction Period: 1865 - 1876, 19th Century | Themes: African American, Laws & Citizen Rights, Racism & Racial Identity, Slavery | Reading Levels: High School | Resource Types: Teaching Activities (Free)

Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution: Teaching a People’s History of Reconstruction (Teaching Activity) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HistoryToo often in teaching the Civil War and Reconstruction, my inclination has been to emphasize the enormous power that social elites and their allies have to subvert or suppress popular movements. An important textbook/curriculum by the American Social History Project, Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution: An Inquiry Into the Civil War and Reconstruction, acknowledges this power—whether wielded by paternalistic white reformers, cynical presidents, or the KKK—but focuses on the efforts of African Americans themselves to gain their freedom. Its contribution is not so much in offering new scholarship, but rather in braiding together a collection of documents, photographs, and illustrations with a clear narrative that rivets our attention on the black struggle for justice.

Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution: An Inquiry Into the Civil War and Reconstruction (Book) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HistoryActivism of all kinds courses through its pages. In contrast to typical textbook portrayals of a predominantly white abolition movement, credit here goes first to “the growing resistance of slaves themselves and the militancy of black and white abolitionists.” Later, in its descriptions of the Civil War, the book shows how enslaved African Americans were a powerful force in shifting the aims of the war from union to freedom. Despite Lincoln’s commitment to keep it a white man’s war, blacks—North and South—demanded the right to fight and, after they won that right, successfully fought for equal pay with white soldiers. In the South, enslaved people sabotaged plantations and ran away to Northern lines. Documents from numerous sources—novels, letters, speeches, congressional testimony, newspaper editorials—breathe life into the text and are accompanied by generally provocative discussion questions.

Published by Rethinking Schools.

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  • Reconstruction in New Orleans began in 1862, following Union occupation. Free people of color immediately organized for racial justice and equality. A radical movement coalesced around L’Union, the South’s first Black newspaper, and later the New Orleans Tribune, America’s first Black daily newspaper. I encourage followers of Zinn Education Project to learn more at and at the website Let us shine a bright light on a hidden history of resistance that had a huge impact on development of Reconstruction.

    Response shared by Mark Roudané — December 9, 2015 @ 11:42 am

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