Reconstruction and the Meaning of Freedom | Facing History & Ourselves
Video

Reconstruction and the Meaning of Freedom

Hasan Kwame Jeffries and George Lipsitz discuss Reconstruction and the meaning of freedom.
Last Updated:

At a Glance

video copy
Video

Language

English — US

Subject

  • History
  • Racism

Reconstruction and the Meaning of Freedom

HASAN KWAME JEFFRIES: We often don't take enslaved people seriously enough. And by serious enough, I mean serious as political thinkers. What African-Americans are doing at the moment of emancipation is reflecting back on what they understood freedom to mean. They are reflecting on those rights that were denied them by slave holders. So enslaved people don't suddenly sort of hear the bells of emancipation ringing and then start thinking about what freedom means. They have been thinking about it all along. And they're forging an agenda that will define the way in which they will pursue freedom for the next century.

GEORGE LIPSITZ: And so what they did was they made alliances with poor whites. They developed free public schools for everybody, not just for black people. They were the first people to say, you can vote even if you don't own property. They were the first people to say, everybody has a right to serve on a jury, and everybody has a right to testify in court, and everybody has a right to be tried by a jury of their peers.

What happened during Reconstruction was that black people authored and authorized a new understanding of freedom, of citizenship, of humanity. And so it's a miracle that black people survived slavery because it was so brutal and inhuman. It's a miracle that black people kept their humanity despite being treated in ways that were inhumane.

But an even greater miracle is that black people preserved and created a kind of democracy that has been a benefit to everyone who has followed since 1877. Even though the people who authored it didn't get the justice they dreamed of, they're still authorizing justice for us.

Reconstruction and the Meaning of Freedom

How to Cite This Video

Facing History & Ourselves, “Reconstruction and the Meaning of Freedom,” video, last updated November 16, 2020.

You might also be interested in…

Using the strategies from Facing History is almost like an awakening.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif