Remembering the Reconstruction Era

By: Caitlyn Webber

How exactly do we remember events during the Reconstruction era, and how has it affected the way our collective memory has been shaped now? As I began researching the Reconstruction Era, I found the preliminary information that we have taught over the years is the abolishment of slavery and industrialization that occurred afterwards. However, I felt it was interesting to see how the formation of black rights and the steps it took to get there are not commonly taught aspects in the American school system.

Propaganda Appearing in the Southern States (
Propaganda Appearing in the Southern States (

Aspects such as these photos were often portrayed across the southern states of America to deter African Americans from stepping foot into the political field. However, signs were not the only thing white southerners were doing in order to threaten them. They would attack them and their homes while also forcing their children into working long hours in terrible and unfit conditions. However, the education system does not cover any of these aspects and, in fact, does not cover anything about the Reconstruction in most states until students reach high school, sometimes even college age.

(More helpful information here:

An essential aspect of the Reconstruction Era that should be brought to more attention is the Freedmen’s Bureau which often fought for African Americans’ rights after the Civil War. The Freedmen’s Bureau was an agency created during the early stages of the Reconstruction that assisted freedmen in the South, established by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1865. The Bureau often spoke about the racial terror that was being inflicted during the Reconstruction Era and discussed how they had to protect them despite the amendments being in place. Their purpose was to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical services, and land to displaced Southerners mostly newly freed African Americans. As pictured below, the group was also established to ensure freed people achieved economic stability and secured their political freedoms granted to them by the amendments, as the Bureau was quite unfavourable to the white population.

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When discussing with their agents that they sent out to observe, they found multiple accounts from African Americans that said that in 90% of domestic dispute cases, whites were attacking African Americans merely refuting to regain black freedom.

Donald Nieman covers the agent’s accounts in his book, saying, “murders and all sorts of depredations are committed by the wholesale, you cannot imagine how terrified the [black] people are. They are aware in case” (70).

The information about this Bureau and the impact that it had on the Reconstruction Era should be more frequently talked about in the education system to assure that we do not just gloss over this event in history as a time that only seemed to “fix” things.

Events like this with the Freedmen’s Bureau have been going unnoticed and are missing from our collective memory of the event. The violence was not just subjected to African American adults but also to their children. Who, when given a school to learn, was burnt down by southern white shortly after being built. Which happened in three different situations, all occurring after racial violence took place in major cities.

I feel as though to remember the Reconstruction for what it was, means integrating it into the school system to prevent anything like this from happening again. As we have seen over the past few years more acts of racial injustice are being called out, but to prevent these events from continuing to reoccur would be stepping back and seeing where it all began.

(More helpful information about these situations here:   Nieman, Donald G. 2020. Promises to keep: African Americans and the constitutional order, 1776 to the present. (70). )