Henry Louis Gates Jr., an award-winning filmmaker, historian and journalist, delivered Tuesday’s campus Forum address about the role that the historical period of Reconstruction continues to play in the racial conversation of the country today.
The Reconstruction includes the twelve transformative years following the Civil War when the nation struggled to rebuild itself in the face of loss, destruction and unprecedented social change.
Gates showed a preview from his newest project, a TV series called Reconstruction: After the Civil War. The series explores the overnight change after the abolition of slavery and spotlights how little of this time period is taught in schools. Often history lessons jump from the abolition of slavery straight to the civil rights movement, without showing why there was a need for a movement.
Gates dubbed the Reconstruction “the second founding of our country,” but emphasized the backlash of racism the reconstruction created.
One of the positive outcomes of the Reconstruction included the rewriting of the Constitution to establish birthright citizenship, which was the only way the founders could make slaves citizens.
“The United States is one of only 33 nations in the world to have birthright citizenship,” Gates said. “It is one of the things that makes America a truly great nation.”
Reconstruction, in an attempt to establish interracial democracy, created rights for black people and brought about the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
As more black people received authority and representation, there was conflict from people who preferred the previous culture.
White supremacy emerged like a volcano with the creation of the Ku Klux Klan, Gates said. White terrorism took the form of violence, rape, lynching and intimidation. The right to vote was slowly taken away as state constitutions found loopholes to the amendments that had been created to ensure equal rights.
The rollback of the Reconstruction brought forth a new and unprecedented form of discrimination in the form of Jim Crow laws and the disenfranchisement of rights former slaves had received at the end of the Civil War.
Gates said that many of the problems that emerged out of the Reconstruction have never been solved, and it has contributed to a divided racial conversation among Americans today.
“Now it is time for us to change the narrative,” Gates said. “We made Reconstruction: After the Civil War to show that we could get through the nightmare of the rollback of Reconstruction through the imposition of Jim Crow, and we can get through the new surge of white supremacist rhetoric. They say history repeats itself, but only if we let it.”
Next Devotional: Elder Dale G. Renlund
Elder Dale G. Renlund, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will deliver the Devotional on Tuesday, December 3, at 11:05 a.m. in the Marriott Center.
His remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org, KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM and BYUradio.