Constructing Memories of Reconstruction

reconstruction-burned buildingsby Tim Good

Last year, the nation and the National Park Service completed the 150th commemoration of the American Civil War. This commemoration included events both on and outside of park boundaries, with a particular emphasis on developing a shared history that acknowledged slavery as the war’s cause, and emancipation as its objective. These goals stood in sharp contrast to the 100th commemoration of the American Civil War during which slavery, African Americans and emancipation were often ignored.

Continuing the momentum from the sesquicentennial, the National Park Service is now focusing on the 150th commemoration of the pivotal Reconstruction period (1865-1877.) While the American Civil War is well represented within the National Park System, has been commemorated for over hundred years, has received immense attention through numerous books, Reconstruction is not represented at all within the National Park System, its event have never been commemorated, and it has received far less attention from scholars than its immediate predecessor.

The National Park Service intends to change that. In regards to commemorations, the agency is partnering with a variety of individuals and organizations in Memphis, Tennessee to commemorate the first, most significant Reconstruction event: The Memphis Massacre of 1866. Over three days from May 1st to 3rd, 1866, white mobs, attempting to maintain white supremacy, murdered over forty African Americans, torched every African American church, and burned all of the African American schools to the ground. The event has never been commemorated before.

To increase the available literature on Reconstruction, the National Park Service recently published a book on Reconstruction which includes essays from a variety of scholarly experts. Additionally, the National Park Service is completing a Reconstruction theme study to recognize possible National Historic Landmark sites. And finally, the agency is also working on a report to identify sites for possible inclusion in the National Park System.

Timothy Good is the Superintendent of the National Parks Service

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