The Atlantic

The United States Needs a Third Reconstruction

Whatever its shape, the era ahead must rekindle the aspiration of a nation molded in the ideal of perfect equality.
Source: Getty / The Atlantic

Along the unbroken chain of racism that links America’s past to its present, there have been two points when the federal government—otherwise complicit or complacent—saw the mistreatment of African Americans as intolerable. During these periods, the country had a response: Reconstruction. The Reconstruction efforts were not without their flaws but, without them, the U.S. would not have made what racial progress it has. Today, another Reconstruction is needed to avoid wasting the promise of its predecessors.

The first Reconstruction came in the Civil War’s aftermath. But the concept of reconstruction—that is, what a postwar, reunified America would look like—was being discussed even before the opening shots were fired at Fort Sumter. “If another Union is formed,” one newspaper wrote in 1861, “the slave States can have no part in it except on the principles of entire and perfect equality.”

Not surprisingly, the emphasis of that first Reconstruction was on the South. Ratified shortly after the war, the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, thereby ridding the South of its “slave bonus” in the House of Representatives and . Then, in fairly quick succession, the Fourteenth Amendment bestowed citizenship on the newly freed and Congress forced the South to enfranchise African American men, before extended the franchise to men nationwide. The scale of progress ushered in over.”

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