Applying Critical Lessons Learned from the Reconstruction Era
During our time together next week, we welcome Facing History and Ourselves’ Senior Program Associate, Heather Frazier, who will guide us through an examination of the progress made during the Reconstruction Era and the patterns of retrenchment that occurred following this time of social, political, and economic change. We will consider questions such as, “Is backlash inevitable in a time of great change? What are the roles of hatred, fear, and the loss of power in inspiring actions that thwart change?”
As historian David Blight argues: “Every revolution we have causes a counter-revolution.” Indeed, the unprecedented period of interracial democracy that occurred after the passage of Radical Reconstruction policies also touched off a determined, violent backlash in the South. He likewise suggests that the ways in which white Northerners imagined African Americans had a profound impact on public support for Reconstruction in the South. Did white Northerners imagine freedpeople as diligent workers and students, responsible voters and lawmakers? Or did they imagine freedpeople as inherently lazy, dependent, childlike, violent, and dangerous? In the enormous number of Reconstruction-era images, black Americans were depicted in all of these contradictory ways. Therefore, similar to today, the conflict over the meaning of freedom and equality for African Americans was fought not only in voting booths and statehouses; it was also fought in the pages of newspapers, other media and the “court of public opinion”.
Few would deny that this history has been poorly and insufficiently understood. And yet, perspectives on the past implicitly and explicitly impact how we understand the present. Re-examining the era of Reconstruction is a perfect entry into understanding the growing political and social backlash as we near the end of the Obama Administration.
In addition, we want to invite Second Tuesday folk who recently attended the White Privilege Conference in Philadelphia to share some insights they gained from the weekend with us.