Misconceptions about the history of Reconstruction persist today. Historian James Grossman describes the importance of establishing an accurate history of Reconstruction:
It is important to get Reconstruction right because for nearly a century, especially in the South, white Americans denied African Americans the vote. White Americans denied the possibility [and] the implications of full citizenship for African Americans by pointing to Reconstruction as a failure, by saying, “Look what happened. We gave these people the vote and these states were run in a corrupt fashion and everything went to hell in a handbasket.” Well, it’s not true. In fact, Reconstruction governments were successful for their time—they were clean, they were progressive—and as W.E.B.Du Bois said back in the 1930s, what white Southerners feared far more than black failure was black success. Reconstruction governments were successful, and that’s why they had to be taken down.1
1Transcribed from video interview related to the film Slavery by Another Name (PBS).
Students explore the legacies of the Reconstruction era today, reflect on the idea of democracy as a continuous process, and consider how they can best participate in the ongoing work of strengthening our democracy.