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Units September 11, 2023

Reconstruction In Five Acts


Lesson Summary: Students consider whether the United States is undergoing a third Reconstruction by analyzing key events, figures and movements from the past. Downloads: Unit resources

This unit was created by the Ascend Social Studies team as part of the 2022 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. It is designed for facilitation across approximately six 60-minute lessons.


Students will…

  • Define the Reconstruction period by describing its key events and themes
  • Formulate a working thesis as to whether the project of Reconstruction is complete today
  • Closely read the text to identify how Enslaved Black Americans used their power and agency during enslavement
  • Identify and describe the impact of Black political and economic leaders during the Reconstruction Period
  • Explain ​​how Black Americans and people of color resisted oppression and injustice, rebuilding their identities (socially, culturally, and politically) between the 1950-1980s
  • Analyze the impact of mid-century movements led by Black Americans and people of color
  • Argue whether the U.S. is currently in a third Reconstruction period
  • Identify and evaluate different methods of power-building and resistance according to their contemporary relevance

Unit Overview:

“Reconstruction In Five Acts” extends the work of The 1619 Project by investigating

  • The effects of slavery and its afterlives in the United States 
  • The multiple legacies of Black resistance, agency, and power-building during Reconstruction and beyond. 

This unit is not an exhaustive account of Reconstruction. Instead, it moves thematically by highlighting key themes from the first Reconstruction period, the Civil Rights era (sometimes known as the U.S.’s “Second Reconstruction”), and the present day, encouraging students to consider whether the country is undergoing a third Reconstruction period.*

Two essential questions drive the unit:

  1. How did Black people and people of color wield power and resistance, rebuild their identity, and sustain agency throughout history?
  2. Is America currently undergoing a third Reconstruction? Why or why not?

Throughout the unit, students engage with these questions by analyzing primary and secondary sources, including 1619 Project content, and holding various forms of collaborative debate and discussion.

Unit Structure:

The first four lessons support the first essential question. 

The first lesson opens with an introduction to the Reconstruction period and a preview of the unit content. Lessons 2-4 highlight Black resistance, agency, and power-building during the Civil War itself, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights era respectively. These lessons examine the “general strike” of enslaved people during the Civil War that crippled the South and led to the Union victory, the flourishing of Black Southern economic and political power following the war, and the advent of radical BIPOC movements in the mid-20th century. 

In the fifth and final lesson, students consider the second essential question, examine present conditions, and evaluate ways to carry on the tradition of Black resistance.*Note: The ideas of the “afterlives of slavery” and the “general strike” of the enslaved come from Saidiya Hartman and W.E.B. DuBois, respectively.

Performance Task(s):

Teachers may select either one or both options which allow students to demonstrate mastery of the content:

  1. Socratic Seminar 
  2. Essay


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