African American and Radical Republican members of the South Carolina Legislature in the 1870s.

The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy

Use this rich collection of Reconstruction era primary sources, videos, and a 3-week unit to engage your students in this pivotal period in US history and its legacies today.


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At a Glance



English — US


  • History


  • Democracy & Civic Engagement
  • Human & Civil Rights
  • Racism


About This Collection

During the Reconstruction Era, Americans were faced with the challenge of rebuilding a society divided by slavery and the political upheaval of the Civil War. Teaching this history is essential to helping students understand citizenship and democracy in the United States today. 

The collection includes multiple entry-points for exploring the Reconstruction Era with your students, including a new 3-week unit, videos, and an array of primary sources available in both English and Spanish.


    We're never fully going to understand who are you, who am I, how did we get here, what are the problems that we're facing, unless we understand the histories that produced that.

    Reconstruction, to my mind, is the most vital period of American history.

    People were making history out of the ashes of war, creating an entirely new country.

    The transfer from slavery to political liberty, practically overnight, had never happened anywhere else in history. This was a bold set of aspirations.

    And it set in motion civil rights, notions of equal citizenship, the empowerment of Black people, the idea that white people and Black people could work together, could live together, could govern together, could love together, in a way that was unprecedented in American history. That was not going to be accomplished in 15 years, but it set in motion a series of things that we're still wrestling with today as a society.

    Who is a citizen? What should the rights of citizens be? What are the relationships between the Federal government and the state governments? How do you deal with terrorism? That's a Reconstruction issue.

    Those central questions of who is an American, what does it mean to be an American, and what is the American government, and therefore what is America, are really laid down from 1865, forward.

    But all of this was happening in a society that had to face this, and try to deal with this, and define all of this, practically overnight in the wake of an all-out war.

    It's a story of how ordinary people, facing very difficult odds, try to create a better society, try to create a functioning democracy, try to create a semblance of equality in this country.

    In its highs and its lows, and its tragedy, its corruption, it's just a remarkable story and every student of American history should know it.


    This collection is designed to be flexible. You can use all of the resources or choose a selection best suited to your classroom. It includes:

    • 3-Week Unit
    • The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy book
    • 7 videos with 7 supporting lesson plans
    • A collection of over 40 primary source documents and images
    • Student materials available in both English and Spanish

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