President John F. Kennedy led our nation during a tumultuous period of violent backlash against the Civil Rights movement, and historian Carl M. Brauer argued that this era was the Second Reconstruction, a second attempt to make good on the promise of America, for all Americans, in the South as well as the North.
In January of 2013, we traveled to Durham, NC and met with Rev. Dr. William Barber — President of the North Carolina NAACP — to ask him why he thinks America is so divided today. He offered this historical framework, in which the America that twice elected President Obama is embroiled in a Third Reconstruction, with a similar, but less violent, political backlash:
In Rev. Dr. Barber's view, we are currently going through the third reconstruction. The first Reconstruction took place after the Civil War. Fusion politics — a governing coalition including Lincoln Republicans, freedmen and former slaves, and populists — made it possible for former slaves to become business, community, and political leaders. But fusion politics was snuffed out by a violent backlash, and replaced by Jim Crow laws that blocked African Americans from voting through poll taxes, impossible "tests," and terrorism.
In the 1960s, there was another attempt at reconstruction, better known as the Civil Rights Movement. The progress we made was met with another violent backlash, culminating in the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
Rev. Dr. Barber identifies the possibility of a third reconstruction, one that could actually succeed, with the launch of Barack Obama's campaign for president in 2008. Once again, this attempt at fusion politics has been met with a hateful backlash. The backlash against integration, equality, and trans-racial governing coalitions has, in all three instances, included attacks on voting rights of African Americans and other minorities. Rev. Barber believes that change is inevitable because of demographic shifts in America and the effectiveness of fusion politics.
Video by Eric Byler and Annabel Park
Special Thanks: Devin Burghart
Music: Jason Shaw