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Lesson Plan After Reconstruction


The collection African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection, contains pamphlets and other materials, most of which were written by African American authors about pressing issues of the day. In this lesson, students use the collection's Timeline of African American History, 1852-1925 to identify problems and issues facing African Americans immediately after Reconstruction. Working in small groups on assigned issues, students search the collection for documents that describe the problem and consider opposing points of view, and suggest a remedy for the problem.


Students will be able to:

  • Describe issues or problems facing African Americans following Reconstruction;
  • Explain possible solutions to these problems suggested in the sources found, and cite arguments for and against these solutions;
  • Make inferences based on a timeline;
  • Analyze primary source documents;
  • Search a database to identify documents related to a topic or problem.

Time Required

One week

Lesson Preparation

This lesson emphasizes small group work. Determine the composition for the small groups prior to the first class period.

The lesson's first two class periods require computers connected to the Internet. To save time, begin the lesson offline. To begin offline, print and photocopy the Timeline that accompanies African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection.

Lesson Procedure

Ask students to read Section 1 and follow the instructions. Allow 20 minutes.

  1. Explain that African Americans in the South faced a variety of problems at the end of Reconstruction. These problems became acute as federal regulation of Southern state governments ended and remaining federal troops were withdrawn from the South.
  2. Have students brainstorm ideas about what these problems might be. Record responses and keep for later reference and use.
  3. Divide the class into small groups and give each group several copies of the Timeline. Tell students to read the Timeline and, based on items included on the Timeline, develop a list of three to five important problems facing African Americans following Reconstruction. Allow 15 minutes for this task.

Discussion of Problems

When small groups have completed their work, have groups share their findings with the class. Discuss the problems identified, asking such questions as:

  • How do you know this was a problem? What evidence does the Timeline provide?
  • Did you identify this as a problem before you read the Timeline? If so, how did you know it was a problem? If not, why do you think you did not know about this problem?
  • Are there significant differences among problems identified by different groups?
  • Are any of these problems related? How?

Help the group reach consensus on a list of problems to be studied. Likely problems include: lynching, race riots, loss of the right to vote, segregation/Jim Crow laws, and education.

Small Group Research

Assign or allow groups to choose problems they wish to study. Try to ensure that all problems are studied by at least one group. Explain to students that they will be using a collection of primary source documents from the Library of Congress to explore their topic further.

Before students begin their work, explain that groups will make final presentations as part of a model African American Congress. Describe how congresses were held to explore solutions to societal problems of the day. See Brief History of African American Congresses in Student Resources for background information. Point out that the constitution from one of these congresses is in African-American Perspectives, 1818-1907. A list of topics likely to be discussed at a congress is in the collection's feature presentation, Daniel Murray: A Collector's Legacy. Each group should prepare a five-minute presentation describing the problem they studied and a possible solution. The presentations should be based on information from at least three documents in African American Perspectives, 1818-1907.

Give students the remainder of this class period and the next class period to do their searching and preparation for the model congress.

Model African American Congress

During the third class period, conduct a model African American Congress, a public meeting to discuss and look for solutions to problems facing African Americans. You may preside over the congress or appoint a student to do so.

To conduct the congress:

  1. Construct an agenda consisting of the problems under study.
  2. For each problem, allow each group studying the problem to give a five-minute report.
  3. A brief class discussion of each problem should follow reports on that problem.
  4. After all problems have been reported and discussed, conduct a general discussion in which the class decides on recommendations to include in a report of the model congress.

Debriefing Discussion

Conduct a debriefing discussion in which students consider such questions as:

  • What search strategies were most effective?
  • Did you find some types of documents more helpful than others? More difficult to interpret?
  • What surprised you about the documents you found? Why?
  • Did you have enough information to assess the credibility or reliability of the documents? Why or why not?
  • What other problem(s) did you identify through your research? How were these problems related to the original problem your group studied?
  • What evidence of prejudice or racism did you find in the documents? Did any of the examples surprise you? Why or why not?
  • What issues generated the most disagreement among African Americans? Why do you think this was so?
  • What evidence did you find of the effects of slavery? Of Reconstruction?

NOTE: For help on organizing the groups, see Tips for Organizing Group Work.


  1. Appoint a committee consisting of one representative from each small group. Have the committee prepare an outline for a report about the model congress results. Then have each small group write to flesh out one outline topic. Ask the committee to edit the final report.
  2. Have each group select a historical person particularly identified with their issue. Encourage them to search African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection and other sources for more information about that person. Have students present results of their research through a poster, a biography, or a mock interview.
  3. Encourage groups to look for similarities between historical problems they have studied and problems that Americans, including African Americans, face today. Which, if any, problems have been solved? Which problems have persisted? How are arguments and proposed solutions similar and different?

Lesson Evaluation

1. Select, print, and copy a document from African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection that students have not analyzed. Ask students to write essays in which they:

  • identify a societal problem described by the document;
  • describe how the document expands their thinking about that problem; and
  • explain whether the author of the document would agree with the recommendations of the class African American Congress.

2. If practical, have students identify and analyze a document themselves. This approach allows assessment of students' search skills as well as their understanding of issues studied in this lesson, and their ability to analyze a primary source.

3. Students could create posters illustrating their research on a problem. The posters should answer the study questions, providing evidence from primary sources to support the answers given.


Section 1

When Reconstruction ended in 1877, African Americans in the South faced many of the problems they had faced since Emancipation. Some of these problems were getting worse, and new problems were gaining importance.

In your group:

  1. Brainstorm a list of new and intensifying problems African Americans in the South faced after Reconstruction. Use what you know about conditions during Reconstruction and racial attitudes in the region to develop ideas.
  2. Record your ideas on a piece of paper.
  3. Study the Timeline of African American History in African American Perspectives, 1818-1907.
  4. Use the Timeline and your own ideas to develop a list of three to five important problems facing African Americans in the South after Reconstruction.
  5. When you have completed your list, you will discuss it with the rest of your class.

Section 2

Select a problem faced by African Americans in the post-Reconstruction South.

Search African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection to learn more about your problem. Examine at least three primary sources from the collection before preparing your presentation. The search tips below will help you choose search words.

Search Tips

Search African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection to find documents related to the problem you are studying. Use keywords and synonyms to produce a list of documents.

For example, if you are studying 'Voting Rights' search on suffrage, vote, and other related words. This chart includes some helpful keyword search terms. You may need to think of some additional search words to find documents for your topic. Remember to look at the language in the document for additional search terms. What terms do the authors of the documents use in their writing? These terms were the language of the day and will lead you to successful searches for more material in the collection.

Problem Keyword Search Terms Sample Primary Source
Lynching lynching, hanging "Lynch Law in Georgia"
Race Riot/Violence civil rights, violence, riot "Open Letter to President McKinley"
Voting Rights suffrage, vote "The Hardwick Bill: An Interview"
Segregation/Jim Crow Laws equality, segregation, black laws, jim crow "Equality Before the Law"
Education education, higher education, industrial education "Education of the Negro"

Use the skills you have learned to analyze the sources. Answer the following study questions about your problem and use them to help organize your presentation for the model African American Congress:

Study Questions

  • Who was involved with this problem? What was at stake?
  • How serious was this problem?
  • How did this problem affect African Americans in the South after Reconstruction?
  • What was one solution proposed for this problem?
  • What were some arguments for and against this proposed solution?

When you have completed your research, prepare a five-minute presentation to the class about the problem and a proposed solution. The class will conduct a model African American Congress as it might have taken place after Reconstruction. See Brief History of African American Congresses to learn more about congresses. The Congress will choose solutions to be included in its report.

Brief History of African American Congresses

African American Congresses date back to 1830, when 40 delegates met in Philadelphia to discuss work problems of African Americans in Cincinnati. The group established the precedent for holding national assemblies to discuss matters of concern for African Americans. Congresses or assemblies met at irregular intervals for the next thirty-five years until the end of the Civil War. Members usually included African American ministers, editors, business owners, and intellectuals. Discussions centered on morality, education, economy, self-help, and equality of opportunity.

Congresses or conventions continued at intervals throughout the post-Civil War period. In Louisville, in 1883, ia convention of African Americans met to plan congresses for regional African American leaders to discuss political policies and conditions. From these regional conventions, held throughout the 1880s-90s, several rights organizations emerged, including the National Association of Colored Men (1896) and the National Afro-American League (1890), which became the Afro-American Council (1898).

The Constitution of the National Afro-American Council stated the following objectives for the organization:

  1. To investigate and make an impartial report of all Lynchings and other outrages perpetrated upon American citizens.
  2. To assist in testing the constitutionality of laws which are made for the express purpose of oppressing the Afro-American.
  3. To promote the work of securing legislation which in the individual States shall secure to all citizens the rights guaranteed them by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
  4. To aid in the work of Prison Reform.
  5. To recommend a healthy migration from terror-ridden sections of our land to States where law is respected and maintained.
  6. To encourage both industrial and higher education.
  7. To promote business enterprises among the people.
  8. To educate sentiment on all lines that specially affect our race.
  9. To inaugurate and promote plans for the moral elevation of the Afro-American people.
  10. To urge the appropriation for School Funds by the Federal Government to provide education for citizens who are denied school privileges by discriminating State laws.
  11. The Afro-American Council remained active until 1906. Its platform advocated civil rights, and foreshadowed the goals of the Niagara Movement (1905), founded in part by W.E.B. Du Bois. The Niagara Movement later led to the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1910).