Legacies of Reconstruction
Reconstruction is the story of how African Americans—including four million newly freed African Americans—determined to define themselves as free and equal citizens. It is also the story of white supremacy, anti-democratic violence, and racial injustice. The U.S. Constitution’s promises of freedom, citizenship, and justice for all—and the nation’s struggles to fulfill those promises—still shape our society today. Though Reconstruction may have ended long ago, its legacies endure, and the fight to remake America continues.
In 1876, Frederick Douglass addressed the Republican National Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. During Reconstruction, the Republican Party gained widespread support among African Americans by passing laws to secure their civil rights. But by 1876, Douglass feared progress was slipping away. Political leaders began stepping back from their commitments to protect Black citizens as white supremacists regained power in the South. Douglass seized this moment to call upon white America’s conscience, asking if the nation truly intended to fulfill its promises of freedom and equality for African Americans.
Listen to an excerpt from Frederick Douglass’s speech to the 1876 Republican National Convention, read by Craig Wallace.