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Primary Source Lab 2: Post Reconstruction Black Life in Late Nineteenth

Updated: May 24, 2022

My African American Survey II course spends a lot of time early on defining African American historiography and introducing students to the lived experiences of African Americans during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

I have found Henry Louis Gates' series on Reconstruction to be an extremely useful tool for engaging students in conversations regarding the history as well as contemporary legacies of Reconstruction.

Ledger from the Wayman Chapel A.M.E. Church in Lyles Station, Indiana. Circa: Late 19th, early 20th c. NMAAHC Collections

My early history lectures (after the historiography discussions) centered on the following:

Week One:

•What was the main causes of the Civil War?

•What evidence do we have to understand the main cause of the Civil War?

•What is Wartime Emancipation?

•What was Reconstruction?

Week Two:

•What important pieces of legislation were passed during Reconstruction, and how did they change American life?

• How did African Americans respond to emancipation?

•Why is it important to consider what role race and gender also played in the lived of experiences of African Americans during Reconstruction?

• What role did terrorism play in Reconstruction?

•Why did Reconstruction end? Was Reconstruction a success or failure?


1. Thirteenth Amendment

2. Andrew Johnson

3. black codes

4. Fourteenth Amendment

5. Ulysses S. Grant

6. black officeholders

7. Freedmen’s Bureau

8. black churches and schools

9. American Equal Rights Association

10. Fifteenth Amendment

11. National Woman Suffrage Association

12. contraband

13. racial violence

14. Ku Klux Klan

15. black towns

16. sharecropping

17. Du Bois’ General Strike Thesis

18. Redeemers

19. Depression of 1873

20. Compromise of 1877

Influence & Conclusion:

  • It is impossible to discuss Reconstruction, without discussing the Civil War

  • Enslaved people as well as Free African Americans decided to make the war about their emancipation

  • Most voting White southerners wanted the war to be about their right to own slaves

  • Most Northern whites initially wanted the war to be over their economic survival, in the face of a growing and robust Southern economy

  • We will examine next week how the nation sought to heal the sounds of war and sectionalism.

With a kind of stage set, we next shifted to Post-Reconstruction Black Life. My slides of that Primary Sources Lab are below. Students were given an overall of the the types of primary sources representative of the time period of Post-Reconstruction, up to the turn-of-the-century.

Students next, sat with and discussed the following sources in their virtual classrooms:

"The Colored Farmers’ Alliance, an African American alternative to the whites-only Southern Farmers’ Alliance, organized as many as a million Black southerners against the injustices of the predominately cotton-based, southern agricultural economy. Black Populists, however, were always more vulnerable to the violence of white southern conservatives than their white counterparts. Here, the publication The Forum publishes an account of violence against Black Populists in Mississippi." -YAWP Reader

"Thousands of African-American troops served in in the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars. Confronted with racial violence and discrimination at home, they did so with a mix of hope, skepticism, satisfaction, and disappointment. Here, the Indianapolis Freeman reports on recruiting efforts in Hartfod, Connecticut."-YAWP Reader

"In this 1899 cartoon published, Uncle Sam lectures his new students: The Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and, Cuba. Past and potentially future U.S. acquisitions fill the rest of the classroom."-YAWP Reader

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