Putting It Together: The Era of Reconstruction

Imagine you are a first-time voter in a United States presidential election, either because you recently turned 18 or you gained that right after becoming a citizen. You are excited to exercise this right given to you as an American. You have spent time evaluating the candidates by watching debates, reading about their platforms, and listening to supporters of all candidates, determined to make the choice you think is best for the country. You have done all you can to tune out social media and the television pundits. You feel confident in your choice and have even explored the different ways your locality allows citizens to cast their vote. Since you are a college student and also work full time, you have a limited window of time in which to cast your vote. You decide to use the dropbox one of your neighbors told you about which they used in the last election, only to find out that a new voting law has greatly curtailed the use of them, including the one you planned to use. Despite the Fifteenth Amendment granting all citizens the right to vote, efforts to restrict certain populations from voting have been around from the time the amendment was passed in 1869. Though discriminatory practices may be less obvious than they were during the end of the Reconstruction era and afterward, the aftermath of these efforts is still felt today.

Reconstruction was an era of U.S. history where two groups of people were at odds with each other. White Southerners had lost the Civil War and their way of life. The freedmen were exploring their newfound liberty. With help from the Union military, carpetbaggers, and the passage of three Constitutional amendments, the freedmen started to expand their new rights as full American citizens. The Southern White people would not stand for this. With the advent of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the instituting of literacy tests and poll taxes, White people chipped away at the freedmen’s rights so that the influence of newly liberated Black people was minimal.

Racial equality improved during Civil Rights Movement, but work still needs to be done, as evidenced by the recent resurgence in White supremacist groups, including the KKK. Emboldened by political and social changes following the election of President Trump in 2016, these groups have become increasingly prevalent and violent, and many were involved in the domestic terrorism insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. It’s plain to see that policies and practices from the Reconstruction era still have a very real impact on life in America today.