Documentary which looks at one of the least understood periods in American history, Reconstruction, which spanned the tumultuous years from 1863 to 1877. The documentary tracks the extraordinary stories of ordinary Americans -- Southerners, Northerners, white and black -- as they struggle to shape new lives in a United States turned upside down.
In the history of the United States, the term Reconstruction Era has two senses: the first covers the complete history of the entire U.S. from 1865â€“1877 following the Civil War; the second sense focuses on the transformation of the Southern United States from 1863 to 1877, as directed by Washington, with the reconstruction of state and society.
From 1863 to 1869, Presidents Lincoln and Johnson took a moderate position designed to bring the South back to normal as soon as possible, while the Radical Republicans (as they called themselves) used Congress to block the president, impose harsh terms, and upgrade the rights of the Freedmen (the ex-slaves). The president prevailed until the election of 1866, which enabled the Radicals to take control of policy, remove from power the ex-Confederates, and enfranchise the Freedmen. A Republican coalition came to power in (nearly all) the southern states and set out to radically transform the society, with support from the Army and the Freedman's Bureau. Conservative white Democrats, alleging widespread corruption, counterattacked and regained power in each state by 1877, often with violence. The Freedmen became second class citizens, while most Southern whites became embittered toward the North and formed a Democratic "Solid South." The deployment of the U.S. military was central to the establishment of Southern Reconstructed state governments and the suppression of violence against black and white voters. Reconstruction was a remarkable chapter in the story of American freedom, but most historians consider it a failure because the region became a poverty-stricken backwater and the Freedmen in the end were at best second-class citizens. Historian Eric Foner argues, "What remains certain is that Reconstruction failed, and that for blacks its failure was a disaster whose magnitude cannot be obscured by the genuine accomplishments that did endure." Others, saw the enactment of Jim Crow laws, and the lack of action by the Supreme Court to carry out and enforce the provisions for equal rights set out in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, an essential element of reconstruction, as the major reason that economic progress in the South failed to materialize, Lawrence Goldstone:
"The South, with its abundance of natural resources, favorable climate, and navigable rivers, should have been a magnet for manufacturing.....But southerners were more interested in trying to maintain the past, to replicating as near as possible, the social economy of the slave system. The more they struggled to maintain a dead status quo, the more they were throttled by it. Scant was the opportunity for blacks or whites in a society in which universal education was discouraged and the perpetuation of an antiquated dysfunctional social order overwhelmed economic considerations."