With the end of the American Civil War in 1865, a period known as the Reconstruction era came to the forefront of American life. Initially beginning in 1863 with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the era continued until 1877 when Ulysses S. Grant left presidential office.

The era focused on the civil rights of black people, the enfranchisement of freedmen, and the reforms expected in the former Confederate states. As well as gains for the black populace, the era featured a huge amount of violence with riots, massacres and lynchings a regular occurence, plus the establishment of the Klu Klux Klan.

An agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau adjudicates a dispute during Reconstruction (The Nation)

After watching Ken Burns: The Civil War I really wanted to learn what came next, but was unable to find any documentaries on the subject. And reading a Wikipedia entry will only get you so far…

A year or so later however, I was watching The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and a historian called Henry Louis Gates Jr was on the show to discuss a new PBS series he had produced called Reconstruction: America After The Civil War. This got me very excited!

I managed to find a PBS station to watch some of it, but then my access expired. This was very disappointing as it was a completely fantastic documentary, and it was just amazing to discover that there were black congressmen in the 19th century – it seemed so contradictory to everything I had learnt previously.

Recently I decided to try and find it on YouTube, and was very pleased to discover that some kind souls had uploaded all 4 episodes. I’m still to finish episode 4 at the moment, but the series is just as revelatory and educational as it was last year.

It is definitely one to watch if you want to learn how and why racism and white supremacy seem so firmly entrenched in American society.

There is also a book accompanying the series, and Stony the Road takes the reader from slavery, through Reconstruction, and to the 20th century. It’s on my reading list for sure.