Revisiting Reconstruction

As I wrote about a while ago, there is a growing chorus of people who are suggesting that we are currently re-living many of the issues this country faced in the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction and Jim Crow. With his current editorial in the NYT, we can now add Columbia University history professor Eric Foner to that group.

The surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, 150 years ago next month, effectively ended the Civil War. Preoccupied with the challenges of our own time, Americans will probably devote little attention to the sesquicentennial of Reconstruction, the turbulent era that followed the conflict. This is unfortunate, for if any historical period deserves the label “relevant,” it is Reconstruction.

Issues that agitate American politics today — access to citizenship and voting rights, the relative powers of the national and state governments, the relationship between political and economic democracy, the proper response to terrorism — all of these are Reconstruction questions. But that era has long been misunderstood.

This article is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the backlash that is being unleashed by the conservative movement today and their Obama Derangement Syndrome. We’re going to keep recycling this one until we have the courage to face up to our past and make the changes necessary to – as President Obama said – “perfect our union.”

For those who are uncomfortable with the idea of black and brown people having power, the road ahead is going to be difficult – but certainly no more difficult than its been for those who have been denied a seat at that table for generations.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.