EJI’s newest report, Reconstruction in America, documents more than 2,000 Black people killed by white mobs in racial terror lynchings between 1865 and 1876. The 12-year period after the Civil War was a critical moment in American history—one that has particular relevance to the current moment.
National media is making the connection between Reconstruction and today’s demands to confront racial injustice.
The report highlights how American institutions, from local sheriffs to the U.S. Supreme Court, failed to protect Black lives and rights. “It’s one of the few times in American history where there is an almost complete concession to lawlessness and an abandonment of constitutional protections,” EJI Director Bryan Stevenson told the Guardian.
“That explains much of the moment we are now in—until there is a deep reckoning of this history of violence and racial oppression we cannot repair and remedy, and without that we are not going to be able to create the society we want.”
The violence brazenly perpetrated during Reconstruction, including 34 mass lynchings documented in the report, “would define America’s racial history for generations,” The New York Times reported.
As Bryan Stevenson told the Times, “It’s only because we gave in to this lawlessness and abandoned the rule of law and decided that these constitutional amendments would not be enforced that it was possible to have nearly a century of racial terror.”
The Washington Post observed that the Reconstruction period “has been overlooked by society and historians for far too long.”
The new era of Reconstruction offered great promise and could have radically changed the history of this country. It was “a period when schools for Black people proliferated and Black politicians held office all across the South,” The New York Times wrote.
That it was over within 12 years—violently resisted by white Southerners, dismantled piecemeal by the U.S. Supreme Court and ultimately abandoned by the federal government—proved how fleeting progress can be, Mr. Stevenson said.
But Reconstruction in America also includes a powerful message of hope. “In 12 short years,” The Guardian reported, “the white supremacists managed through a whirlwind of violence to change the entire course of American history—putting the country on the path towards inequality and discrimination under which it still labors today.”
As Bryan Stevenson told The Guardian:
“If they could do so much in 12 years, why can’t we? In 12 years we could change the entire direction of the country. If we engage in a vigorous, committed effort of truth telling and repair, we might create a new century where things are very different.”