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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of History

The Reconstruction Era: History and Public Memory

A DISCUSSION OF RECONSTRUCTION Presented by the University of South Carolina History Center and Historic Columbia April 21-22, 2016

The Reconstruction period marked the transition from slavery to freedom and citizenship for nearly four million enslaved African Americans and the start of an unprecedented experiment in biracial democracy. It saw the enactment of 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, which expanded constitutional protection of citizenship rights for all Americans. The achievements of Reconstruction as well as its violent demise is one of the most poorly understood episodes in American history. Yet the impact of the Reconstruction “experiment” on black Americans, race relations, and the nation at large resonates through American history, reflected in ongoing discussions about race in America, historical and contemporary debates regarding citizenship and rights, and the ways in which this history is publicly commemorated and interpreted.

South Carolina was the site of Reconstruction’s most notable achievements and also a place where its provisions were hotly and violently challenged.  And it is a place where public commemoration of this past remains contested, making the University of South Carolina’s History Center and Historic Columbia’s presentation of The Reconstruction Era: History and Public Memory a particularly significant event.

Join University of South Carolina’s History Center and Historic Columbia April 21-22, 2016 for the first major public symposium on Reconstruction as part of the 150th commemoration of this era.


Click HERE to register for events.




Thursday, April 21, 6:00 pm


Ladson Presbyterian Church, 1720 Sumter Street

The Significance of Reconstruction in American History: 

Keynote Address by Eric Foner

(photo by Daniella Zalcman)


A Pulitzer Prize winning historian and widely acclaimed teacher, Eric Foner has written about slavery, the Underground Railroad, Emancipation and Abraham Lincoln, as well as one of the most widely assigned textbooks on U.S. history, Give Me Liberty!  Most well-known for his seminal book, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, Foner has been involved with efforts to expand public knowledge and understanding of the Reconstruction era, and has actively supported efforts to create a Reconstruction interpretive site in Beaufort, SC.


Friday, April 22, 9:00am-5:00pm

The Reconstruction Era: History and Public Memory Symposium

All events at Columbia Museum of Art, 1515 Main Street



Registration and Continental Breakfast 



New Directions in Reconstruction History

Panelists: Elsa Barkley Brown, Ph.D  (Associate Professor of History and Women’s Studies, University of Maryland), Lewis Burke, Ph.D. (Professor of Law, University of South Carolina), Stacey Smith, Ph.D (Associate Professor of History, Oregon State University).  

Moderator: Ehren Foley, Ph.D (SC State Historic Preservation Office)

Panelists will discuss new and recent scholarship on the Reconstruction and how it informs contemporary understanding of the era and its legacy. Lewis Burke, will discuss the role of black lawyers in Reconstruction era-politics and their work to resist efforts to undermine and severely limit the enforcement of the 14th and 15th amendments as leading South Carolinians fought to restore white supremacy. Stacey Smith, author of Freedom’s Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction will discuss the impact of Reconstruction in the West, with a focus on black civil rights struggles. Elsa Barkley Brown will discuss her seminal work on the topic of African American political life and culture in the transition from slavery to freedom, with a focus on gender and women. 


Noon-1:15pm, Luncheon Program

From Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement: Personal Reflections

Speaker: Congressman James E. Clyburn


Cost:  $30 per person



Interpreting Reconstruction: Challenges and Opportunities

Panelists: Michael Allen (Community Partnership Specialist, National Park Service), Gregory Downs, Ph.D  (Associate Professor of History, UC-Davis), Kate Masur, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of History, Northwestern University), Jennifer Taylor  (Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, USC)

Moderator:  Eric Foner, Ph.D. (Columbia University)


Panelists Kate Masur and Gregory Downs have been working with the National Park Service on a project that aims to involve historians, staff members, state historical societies, and the general public in “a discussion about the best sites and methods to capture Reconstruction history.” Masur and Downs have edited a book that contributes to this effort in a collection titled, The World the Civil War Made. Michael Allen is the NPS’s ground coordinator for a project dedicated to improving public understanding of Reconstruction and Jennifer Taylor developed tours and trained guides for Historic Columbia’s Woodrow Wilson Family Home. Allen and Taylor will address challenges and opportunities in interpreting Reconstruction-era sites.



Reception and Tours

Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction, 1705 Hampton Street

Tours led by Thomas Brown and HC Staff

In February 2014 after a full-scale physical and interpretive rehabilitation, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction reopened shifting from a shrine to the 28th president to a museum that explores the years in which a teenaged Wilson lived in Columbia. Tours and exhibits are designed so that visitors can interact through technology and conversation with challenging topics that range from the meaning of citizenship to the violent overthrow of Reconstruction. Within this framework guides address the complexities of the man for whom the site is named and how his experiences as a young man in Columbia may have shaped his policies as president of the United States. Tours of the site will be led by Dr. Tom Brown, a noted scholar of the period as well as a member of the team that worked with Historic Columbia to craft the content for the exhibits.



South Caroliniana Library 

Columbia Museum of Art    

Institute for Southern Studies   

USC Graduate School       

South Carolina African American Heritage Foundation 

USC African American Studies Program   



Click HERE to register for events.


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