Henry Louis Gates Jr & Paula Kerger on Reconstruction: America After the Civil War | SXSW EDU

by February 15, 2021


Henry Louis Gates Jr & Paula Kerger, in conversation with Eric Deggans, discuss the documentary series, Reconstruction: America After the Civil War. Reconstruction: America After the Civil War: Explore how one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented chapters in American history — the transformative years following the Civil War — still haunt the country, more than 150 years later. In this candid conversation PBS leaders will provide educators with the framework to discuss the historical, sociological and political factors that lead us to our current day, as well as the challenge we still face as a nation to live up to our founding ideals of democracy, freedom and equality for all.

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Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the transformative years following the American Civil War, when the nation struggled to rebuild itself in the face of profound loss, massive destruction, and revolutionary social change. The twelve years that composed the post-war Reconstruction era (1865-77) witnessed a seismic shift in the meaning and makeup of our democracy, with millions of former slaves and free black people seeking out their rightful place as equal citizens under the law. Though tragically short-lived, this bold democratic experiment was, in the words of W. E. B. Du Bois, a ‘brief moment in the sun’ for African Americans, when they could advance and achieve education, exercise their right to vote, and run for and win public office.

Chapter 1: The aftermath of the Civil War was bewildering, exhilarating…and terrifying. African Americans had played a crucial role in saving the Union and now, as the country grappled with the terms and implications of Reconstruction, they struggled to breathe life into their hard-won freedom. The result was a second American Revolution.

Chapter 2: Post-Civil War America was a new world. For African Americans living in the former Confederacy, Reconstruction was what historian W. E. B. Du Bois once described as their “brief moment in the sun.” But support for the social, economic, and political gains they achieved didn’t last long. A controversial presidential election in 1876 deals Reconstruction a grievous blow, as Southern states are “redeemed” and the forces of white supremacy are ascendant.

Chapter 3: Examines the years 1877-1896, a transitional period that saw visions of a “New South” set the stage for the rise of Jim Crow and the undermining of Reconstruction’s legal and political legacy. While some African Americans attempted to migrate, the vast majority remained in the South, where sharecropping, convict leasing, disfranchisement, and lynchings drew a “color line” that limited opportunities and destroyed lives. Although their “brief moment in the sun” had been cast in shadow, African Americans refused to retreat and used their voices and pens to continue to fight for those rights afforded to white Americans.

Chapter 4: The turn of the century is known as the ‘nadir’ of race relations, when white supremacy was ascendant and African Americans faced both physical and psychological oppression. Racist imagery saturated popular culture and Southern propaganda manipulated the story of the Civil War and Reconstruction. But African Americans found ways to fight back, using artistic expression to put forward a “New Negro” for a new century.

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