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Education to the Rescue

How Radical Republican Teachers Reconstructed the South

In the early 1900’s, Reconstruction studies (excluding the work of W.E.B. DuBois) approved quick restoration of states, Andrew Johnson’s strict constitutionalism, and white Southerners’ revolt against military and Republican rule (which consisted of carpetbaggers, scalawags, and freedmen).  These studies—named the “Dunning School” for historian William A. Dunning, whose students applied his interpretation to individual Southern states—were “pro-Southern,” writes Eric Foner in Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution (1988), and portrayed black suffrage as the “gravest error” of the period.  They are charged with glossing over what has been labeled “unreconstructed sordidness.”

By the 1950’s, historians did an about-face.  The Revisionist school considered Johnson’s constitutionalism a veneer for racism and labeled the Ku Klux Klan terrorists, instead of freedom fighters.  Revisionists also argued that Reconstruction was not a time of black supremacy and that Republicans were humanitarians, not vindictive opportunists.

By the 1970’s, a Post-Revisionist school considered Reconstruction a “tragic era” for reasons different from those of the Dunning School: Government intervention had been too limited, and the United States had abandoned the freedmen.  Interestingly, many...

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