In his 1988 work Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877, Eric Foner drives a final nail into the coffin of outdated interpretations of history. His fascinating account of the decade following the American Civil War shows that black people were an integral part of the movement to end centuries of slavery and were often key drivers of what successes there were in the Reconstruction period.
Reconstruction had the potential to make good on the promise of America’s founders, bringing freedom and equality to all. Yet this promise was undermined by defiant Southern whites determined to protect their own privilege. Earlier interpretations of this period often blamed the failures of Reconstruction on black people. But Foner’s analysis concluded that Reconstruction was an overall failure because whites prevented African Americans from becoming equal citizens. Reconstruction builds on work by scholars like W. E. B. Du Bois to finally acknowledge the central position of blacks in shaping American democracy as we know it.