The changes in American democracy and society following Emancipation and Reconstruction provoked a violent response from Americans who were opposed to Radical Reconstruction and shocked by the attempt to overthrow white supremacy in Southern society. Centered on Violence and Backlash, Part Five of Facing History's video series about Reconstruction, this lesson will help illuminate two periods of violence and terror during Reconstruction: one perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan and the other perpetrated by paramilitary groups operating in concert with the Democratic Party. By watching the video and analyzing historical documents, students will understand that significant political and social change often provokes a backlash when large portions of the population do not support the change, and that, when that backlash includes violence and intimidation, it is corrosive to democracy. Students will also reflect on the factors that led to the success of violent groups in precipitating the defeat of Republican governments in the former Confederacy.
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 to engage students in conversations around the effects that violence and terror can have on the choices made by individuals in a democracy. In addition to the suggestions below, see Lessons 10, 11, and 13 in The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy for more resources and background information about both the causes and effects of violent backlash to freedpeople and their participation in political, economic, and social life during the Reconstruction Era.