The constitutional amendments passed during Reconstruction vastly expanded former slaves’ rights and opportunities. At the same time, the Black Codes passed in most Southern towns, cities, and states curtailed those rights and opportunities. The tension between African Americans’ federal and local rights raises questions about the impact of Reconstruction on the freedom of former slaves. In this structured academic controversy, students examine constitutional amendments, a Black Code, a personal account of a former slave, and other documents to answer the question: “Were African Americans free during Reconstruction?"
[Lesson Plan updated on 9/23/14.]

Image: Political cartoon lampooning Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction created by Thomas Nast in 1866. From the Library of Congress.


I tried this today with my Honors U.S. History class - all seniors. Before implementing this activity, I had students take a minute to think about what freedom means, and I asked four students to share their ideas. I also ran three short videos: a 12 minute overview of Reconstruction and two, two minute videos on sharecropping. I used the original rather than the modified documents and had the students read the documents in class. I followed the plan as written. Some of my students got into discussing, some not so much, but I think this is due more to the class than the lesson. In the future, I'm going to have them write down their ideas of freedom and connect back to those ideas at the very end of the activity. And I will run the videos after, perhaps in the next class, as a way to cap it off, or to move on to sharecropping as the next activity. I think this lesson has real potential for some deep thinking, which my students did not want to do today. I will certainly use it again next year.
I just finished facilitating this activity today (for both my regular and honors U.S. classes). It went well! One thing that I figured out by the second class was that it is very helpful, almost essential, for the students to come to a consensus about the definition of "free." Once they have an agreed upon a definition, it makes the discussion points more pointed.
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