Reconstruction: A Slate Academy


A sequel to Slate's History of American Slavery
Reconstruction: 12 years that explain America in 2017. Left image: freedmen at the ballot box. Middle image: Ku Klux Klansman on horseback. Right image: White supremacist marchers with torches in Charlottesville

With Jamelle Bouie and Rebecca Onion

How we won the war but lost the peace.

The era of Reconstruction that followed the Civil War was our best chance to build an American democracy grounded in racial equality. Its failure helps explain why race, “states’ rights,” and the legacy of the Confederacy remain central themes in our politics today.

Join Slate’s Jamelle Bouie and Rebecca Onion as they dive into the latest scholarship about the era and examine its lessons for America and the world in 2017.

Read Rebecca and Jamelle’s introduction to the series.

This Slate Academy includes:
  • An eight-episode podcast series about Reconstruction featuring Rebecca Onion and Jamelle Bouie—the sequel to The History of American Slavery.
  • Illuminating essays and book excerpts, to help you get more out of the podcast, as well as other readings.
  • A chance to discuss the series with Rebecca, Jamelle, and other members in a lively private Facebook group.
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Our prequel episode is a primer on the who, what, when, and where of Reconstruction. If you’ve forgotten your AP U.S. History facts about the period, this is the place to start.

Some freedpeople ended up owning parcels of the land they had worked when enslaved. Some formed intentional communities to farm it. By the end of Reconstruction, most of them had no land to their names.

Amy Murrell Taylor is the author of The Divided Family in Civil War America.

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We discuss two Northern men—one white, one black—who gained local offices in the South after the war, and how town and county politics affected their efforts to help freedpeople.

Ed Ayers is author of The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America.

Enslaved men went from being property to being citizens, with supposedly equal protection of the law, in a few short years. But how radical was the vision of freedmen’s rights that was laid out during Reconstruction?

Aderson François is a professor of law at Georgetown and director of the Institute for Public Representation Civil Rights Law Clinic.

For a few short years, the South Carolina State House of Representatives was majority black. The state had a black secretary of state, a black State Supreme Court justice, and several black representatives in Congress.

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

The collapse of the antebellum Southern legal order left freedpeople exposed to violence from whites desperately trying to re-establish racial hierarchies. Some black people tried to defend themselves, acquiring weapons and forming militias. How common—and how effective—was that strategy?

Kidada Williams is the author of They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I.

Our penultimate episode looks at the long collapse of Reconstruction, as symbolized by the violent overthrow of a rightfully-elected biracial government in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898.

Kendra Field is the author of the forthcoming book Growing Up with the Country: Family, Race, and Nation after the Civil War.

In our last episode, we try to put all the pieces together. We’ll talk about the memory of Reconstruction over the years since its collapse, tracing how white and black communities have assessed the experiments of that decade-plus differently.

Richard White is the author of The Republic For Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896.

Supplementary Reading


Reconstruction is made possible with support from Bunk: American History Rewired, and the weekly podcast With Good Reason.
Slate Academies are published by The Slate Group, a Graham Holdings Company.
All contents © The Slate Group LLC. All rights reserved.