by Kathie England


“Hope is a discipline!”

“Hope is activism!”

“Dignity – Democracy – Citizenship”

Hearing these words from Peniel E. Joseph, author of The Third Reconstruction, inspired this month’s post. Speaking at the Oregon Historical Society’s Mark O. Hatfield Lecture Series on May 23, 2023, Joseph explained the three periods of Reconstruction in the United States.

Celebration of Juneteenth (June 19) 2023 the day before this month’s blog posted and its recognition as a national holiday seemed even more reason to share Joseph’s perspectives.

The First Reconstruction era, 1865 to 1898, included passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. During that time more than two thousand Black men held public office at local, state, and federal levels. This period was followed by decades of Jim Crow.

“The Second Reconstruction spanned the heroic period of the civil rights era – from the May 17, 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s April 4, 1968 assassination.” Embracing the value of Black equality to the strength of democracy was a hallmark of this period.

The Third Reconstruction began with the November 4, 2008 election of Barack Obama “through the recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and all that they have entailed.”

What does it mean to be a Reconstructionist?

1.“Reconstructionists embraced America not only as an idea, but as a constantly changing political reality that could evolve into a more perfect union through the collective will of people of conscience.”

2.“Reconstructionists exhibited a passionate commitment to achieving the goal of multiracial democracy.”

For our democracy to survive, we must confront the most consequential parts of our history. Our willingness to confront these darker parts of our history gives us opportunities to heal the deep-seated racial wounds that are part of the fuller story of our national past and our hope for the future. “We are only at the beginning of the beginning of coming to terms with a new American founding in the aftermath of 2020’s racial and political reckoning.”

Joseph says, “I hope this book allows readers to take a historical journey that enables them to see America and its people through new eyes, and in so doing to understand and retell a different story about the past, one that speaks to the present with enough grace to transform the nation’s future.”

I encourage you to explore what it could mean if we each embraced becoming Reconstructionists.