People voting.
Lesson

Interracial Democracy

Through a video-based activity, students explore how Radical Reconstruction changed the nature of voting rights and democracy in the South.

Published:

At a Glance

Lesson

Language

English — US

Subject

  • History

Grade

9–12

Duration

One 50-min class period
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement
  • Human & Civil Rights
  • Racism

Overview

About This Lesson

Radical Reconstruction brought about revolutionary changes to the nature of democracy and the structure of American society, especially in the South. Centered on Part Four of Facing History’s video series about Reconstruction, and enhanced with activities and readings, this lesson will help students explore the consequences of Radical Reconstruction. Students will reflect on how the groundbreaking changes that occurred because of new laws in the late 1860s and early 1870s affected the strength of American democracy.

This lesson is part of Facing History’s work on the Reconstruction era and part of a series of lessons focused on our Reconstruction videos. Use this lesson to engage students in a conversation about the period of interracial democracy that occurred during Radical Reconstruction. In addition to the suggestions below, see Lesson 8 in The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy for more resources and background information.

  • What changes did the policies of Radical Reconstruction bring to the post-war South?
  • How did such changes affect the strength of democracy in the United States?
  • The period known as Radical Reconstruction during the late 1860s and early 1870s brought revolutionary changes to the post-war South, most notably the election of 2,000 Black officeholders in the region and the creation of Reconstruction state governments composed of both Black people and white people. 
  • Interracial state governments won many achievements that benefited both Black and white Southerners, including the creation of the first public school systems in the South, the rebuilding of the Southern economy, and the first civil rights legislation at the state level.

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Lesson Plans

Activities

The video Interracial Democracy introduces students to the dramatic political and social changes that occurred in the South as a result of Radical Reconstruction. The video focuses specifically on Black suffrage. Before watching the video, students should reflect on the revolutionary and unprecedented nature of granting political and civil rights to millions of people who, two years prior, were enslaved.  

Ask students to write a short response to the following quotation by historian Eric Foner:

Never before in history had so large a group of emancipated slaves suddenly achieved political and civil rights. And the coming of black suffrage in the South in 1867 inspired a sense of millennial possibility second only to emancipation itself. Former slaves now stood on equal footing with whites, declared a speaker at a mass meeting in Savannah; before them lay “a field, too vast for contemplation.”

In their responses, students might reflect on what effects they think Black suffrage would have on the lives of individual freedpeople, the South, and the nation as a whole. After students have spent a few minutes recording their thoughts, use the Think, Pair, Share teaching strategy to help them discuss their ideas about these questions with each other.

Show the video Interracial Democracy. Before showing the video, share the following questions with students to guide their note-taking:

  1. What was Radical Reconstruction?
  2. What do you think the term “interracial democracy” means? Why do you think historians like Eric Foner have used this term to describe this history?
  3. About how many African Americans held political office during Reconstruction? What types of offices did they hold?
  4. In what ways did Blacks and whites work together in the South during Reconstruction? What obstacles got in the way of such cooperation?
  5. What were some of the policies and accomplishments of interracial state governments during Reconstruction? Who benefited from these policies and accomplishments? Who opposed them?

Ask students to return to the quote and journal reflection they wrote at the beginning of class. Ask students to add to their responses about the impact of Black suffrage on the lives of individual freedpeople, the South, and the nation as a whole, based on what they’ve learned from the video. 

Debrief students’ responses as a class.

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