Eric Foner on why the Reconstruction era is still vitally important today. He gives us the short history we need for the most basic understanding of the issues at play and why historians changed their views on the period over time, from lauding the racist white Democrats to noting the horrors they committed against African-Americans. For many readers here, this is a history they know well enough, even if it never hurts to become reacquainted with the argument. But I think the real key is just this single paragraph.
Issues that agitate American politics today — access to citizenship and voting rights, the relative powers of the national and state governments, the relationship between political and economic democracy, the proper response to terrorism — all of these are Reconstruction questions. But that era has long been misunderstood.
Indeed, given how Republicans are seeking to strip voting rights from African-Americans and how the Supreme Court has overturned the most important part of the Voting Rights Act, that key legislative victory of the Second Reconstruction, and how Republicans are seeking to move power away from the federal government and give it to the states so that corporations, homophobes, and white supremacists can dominate American life rather than a national state that protects the rights of all.
Civil rights leaders and writers have long called for a Third Reconstruction that would help solve the problems the first two did not. Unfortunately, that Third Reconstruction may be necessary simply to restore the rights stripped during this dark era of American history.