The Third Reconstruction: America’s Struggle for Racial Justice in the 21st Century
America’s Reconstruction era, which lasted more than three decades after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, was a historical watershed. The era’s battles between Reconstructionist supporters of multiracial democracy and Redemptionist advocates of white supremacy generated racial violence, political divisions, and narrative wars that continue to this day. A century later, during the civil rights era, America’s Second Reconstruction produced a fragile national consensus that the quest for Black citizenship and dignity was a political and moral good. But the struggle over the true meaning of American democracy continued—and it burst back into the open in the twenty-first century, reaching a climax in the racial and political reckoning of 2020. Making sense of the events of 2020 requires historical context. This context reveals that the period from 2008 through 2020—the era of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, of Black Lives Matter and January 6—is America’s Third Reconstruction. This era has featured the most volatile conflicts between Reconstructionists and Redemptionists in more than a century. This course examines these three periods of Reconstruction, their relationship to transformations in American democracy, impact on public policy, and importance to ideas of American Exceptionalism, in order to understand the contemporary debates, political divisions, and social movements of the present address issues citizenship, identity, justice, equity, and democracy.