While the 13th Amendment ended slavery in the United States, it did not define what freedom for formerly enslaved Americans would actually mean. The debate over the meaning of freedom for freedpeople is one of the primary conflicts in the history of the Reconstruction era. Centered on "Defining Freedom," Part Two of Facing History's video series about Reconstruction, and enhanced with readings and activities, this lesson will help to illuminate the choices and aspirations of freedpeople, and the methods in which the government defined and sought to protect freedpeople's newly acquired rights. Students will consider the concept of freedom, what it means to be free, and what role freedom plays in their own lives. They will also begin to reflect on the question of whether or not someone who is excluded from full and equal membership in society is truly free.
This lesson is part of Facing History’s work on the Reconstruction era, and part of a series of video-based web lessons. Use this lesson towards the beginning of a Reconstruction unit and engage students in a discussion about the meaning of freedom and how freedpeople sought to define freedom after Emancipation. In addition to the suggestions below, see Lesson 3 in The Reconstruction Era & the Fragility of Democracy for more resources and background information about the ways that freedpeople and the federal government sought to define the meaning of freedom after Emancipation.