Students can continue with a selective review of American government by considering this question: How did the country change because of the Civil War and Reconstruction in the nineteenth century? The events leading up to the Civil War, the successes and failures of Reconstruction, and informal and formal segregation brought on by Jim Crow laws also provide context for understanding racial inequities in late-nineteenth-century America. To help students understand the history of the Constitution after 1787, teachers pay particular attention to the post–Civil War amendments (Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth), which laid the foundation for the legal phase of the twentieth-century civil rights movement. The amended Constitution gave the federal government increased power over the states, especially for the extension of equal rights and an inclusive definition of citizenship. A focus on these topics later on in the course allows for a comparative study of the civil rights movement over time as ethnic and racial minorities experienced it. In addition to the civil rights groundwork laid by the Reconstruction-era Constitutional Amendments, students should closely read the Fourteenth Amendment as it is has been continually reinterpreted and applied to different contexts by the courts; for example, sometimes it has been employed as a protection for workers and other times as a protection for corporations. In the context of the late nineteenth century, civil rights advocates such as Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute and author of the 1895 Atlanta Exposition address, and W. E. B. Du Bois, a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and author of The Souls of Black Folk, had different perspectives on the means of achieving greater progress and equality for African Americans. Racial violence, discrimination, and segregation inhibited African Americans’ economic mobility, opportunity, and political participation. As background for their later studies about challenges to Jim Crow segregation, students understand the meaning of “separate but equal,” as both a legal term and as a reality that effectively limited the life chances of African Americans by denying them equal opportunity for jobs, housing, education, health care, and voting rights.

Inquiry Question


How did the country change because of the Civil War and Reconstruction in the nineteenth century?