In this lesson, students will examine the experience of African Americans in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. With their newfound freedom, African Americans began to participate more in both local and national government structures. This shift in power, once held entirely by white Americans, was met with a degree of opposition. This lesson uses a variety of primary sources and prompts students to question their own understandings of power. Coupled with segments of the PBS series “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” students will be able to answer the question: “Was Reconstruction a success or failure?”
This lesson plan is used in the Teaching and Learning About "The Africans Americans: Many Rivers to Cross video. It was created by Danielle Alli, Charlestown High School, Charlestown, Massachusetts, and is reprinted with her permission.
One 45-minute session
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
- Identify several experiences had by African American politicians during Reconstruction
- Locate evidence to support an argument in favor of the success of Reconstruction or in favor of its failure
- Evaluate different perspectives surrounding a period in history
- Compare and contrast different primary and secondary sources around the same historical topic
- Project the prompt (alternatives would be to handwrite prompt onto the board or provide students with a handout): Giving more rights to one group of people threatens the rights of another group of people.
- Below the prompt, instruct students to first determine whether they agree, disagree, strongly agree or strongly disagree with the statement then explain their opinions.
- Ask students along with their explanations to proceed to one of the four corners of the room designated with signs that read AGREE, DISAGREE, STRONGLY AGREE, STRONGLY DISAGREE.
- Have students share their responses with each other for a few moments then have the class refocus their attention to the center of the room.
- Have students share out their various opinions and reasons for standing in the corners they have chosen.
- Explain to students that this starting prompt will help guide the lesson as students set out to answer the question, “Was Reconstruction a success or failure?”
- This activity will require some set up before the class begins. The teacher should have five stations prepared and divide the class into five groups.
- At each station, provide students with a handout of a primary source document from the era and instruct them to fill it out as they move from station to station. Allot 5–7 minutes per station.
1. Have the students return to their seats and project these two discussion questions on the board:
- How does the initial prompt connect with the documents students looked at in class today? (To help scaffold the question, you may want to be more specific and ask students: Who may have felt threatened by the rise of African American political power and why?)
- If Reconstruction was intended to rebuild America, do the documents you looked at today give evidence that it helped America progress (grow/develop) or caused America to regress (or get worse)? Cite specific evidence/documents in your response.
2. Facilitate a discussion that allows students to share out their observations during the class.
3. Project (or provide as a handout) a final prompt that will allow students to write down their opinion more thoughtfully on the topic that was covered in class by asking them to answer and reflect on the question: “Was Reconstruction a success or a failure?” Instruct students to explain their responses using their work from class.