Lesson 2: A Look at Virginians During Reconstruction, 1865-1877


Day 1
1. Hook: Begin by asking students what they remember about slavery – specifically about how slavery impacted the lives of those who were slaves. Write students’ recollections on a web on the board or a flip chart. Then ask students what they know about free blacks before the Civil War: specifically what rights did and didn’t they have? If this lesson follows directly after lesson 1: Slavery and Free Negroes, 1800-1865, best to begin by asking students for a short recap of what they learned.
For HS students, teachers might start by asking students recall what they remember about Reconstruction.

2. Tell students that they will learn the story of William Jasper and his family, people who were first slaves then free blacks in Virginia, and will then get a chance to examine some documents for clues about life in Virginia after the Civil War.

3. Use the talking points above about William Jasper and his family to tell students this story. As you do, ask students how the Jasper’s experience is similar to or different from what they remember about slaves and free blacks.

4. Explain that they will be examining two primary sources to find out what rights freed people gained during Reconstruction and how these rights affected the lives of individuals.

5. Give each student a copy (and possibly have a copy on a smart board or overhead projector) of A List of Colored Voters Voting in the 3rd Magisterial District, Fairfax County, Virginia, October 22, 1867.

6. Direct students to work in pairs and follow along as you introduce the List, then have them look at the list of names. Ask students to jot down on paper what they notice and also make a note of any questions they have. These are purposely open-ended tasks, with the goal being for students to focus and think first on their own, and then to have pairs of students discuss what they found.

7. Examples of things students might notice and question include: the date is 1867, that William Jasper’s name is listed, that colored voters are listed separately from white voters, that only men are listed, that each man has a first and last name – different from the list of slaves on the Foote will and inventory where most were identified by first names only, only names are listed – not addresses. Questions might address why some of these things occurred.

8. Reconvene the class as a whole and ask students to share what they noticed and the questions they had, and write their basic points on the board under Notice and Questions. Answer questions as you can.
Points to clarify and emphasize include:

•  That Thornton Gray, another of the founders of the Laurel Grove School (and included in the previous lesson) is also on the List.

• On the list of voters, note the total number of colored voters voting, and that they were not just registered but actually voted in 1867.

9. Next give each student a copy (and possibly have a copy on a smart board or overhead projector) of the 1869 Marriage License for William Jasper and Georgiana Jackson.

10. Again, direct students to work in pairs and follow along as you read the Marriage License. Ask students to jot down on paper what they notice and also make a note of any questions they have. Again, these are purposely open-ended tasks, with the goal being for students to focus and think first on their own, and then to have pairs of students discuss what they found.

11. Examples of things students might notice and question include: that Georgiana (Jackson) not Sarah is listed as William Jasper’s wife – explain that Sarah died and that William Jasper married again, note “Condition of Husband” and “Condition of Wife” with two options: widowed or single, and that for husband--widowed is listed, while for wife--single is listed, note ages (58 and 34), no names listed for wife’s parents, there is no designation that this license for race (white or colored), husband/Jasper’s occupation is listed as farmer, and there is no place to list wife’s occupation. Why was getting married legally so important to freed people?

12. Reconvene the class as a whole and ask students to share what they noticed and the questions they had, and write their basic points on the board under Notice and Questions. Answer questions as you can.

13. Ask students:
• What rights do these two documents show that Jasper (and others) had in 1867 and 1869 that they did not have as slaves or as free blacks?
• How did free blacks get the right to marry legally and to vote (among other rights)? [Questions asked in Historical Background that you might want to use/revisit:
• Who would hold and exercise economic and political power in the postwar South? What kind of labor system would replace slavery?
• Who would lead the South politically?
• What might freedom mean for the four million former slaves?

14. The next step is to connect students’ observations and questions on the list and the marriage license to the historical context. Again, use the relevant section of the Historical Background and the three-part time line to do this in whatever method makes sense to you and your class. Be sure to make two key points at this point:

• Use the three-part timeline with National, Virginia, Jasper/Walker Family events to show the inter-relatedness of what happens. [Students could begin to re-create this three-part time line or have the teacher put it together section by section and post it on the class walls.]
• People make choices within their historical contexts.

15. Wrap up: The question--what might freedom mean for the four million slaves--will provide an important problem-posing link to students’ study of Reconstruction. Encourage students to hypothesize how these rights became legal for freed black people in Virginia, and write their hypotheses on the board or a flip chart.

Day 2
1. Before class, write the information listed in # 3 below on the board or a flip chart.

2. Hook: Begin with the word “Reconstruction”: ask students what it means and what they think needed to be reconstructed at the end of the Civil War in Virginia. What groups of people would need help and why? Problems faced by Virginians during Reconstruction include:

• Four million freed slaves needed housing, clothing, food, jobs, and an education/literacy
• Virginia’s economy was in ruins
• Confederate money had no value
• Banks were closed
• Railroads, bridges, farms and crops had been destroyed A different option for the hook might be to have the students do a think-pair-share. Students should discuss problems and issues Virginians may have encountered during the Reconstruction era.

3. Give students a brief explanation of the Congressional actions during Reconstruction by reading and showing them the information below. Be sure to remind students that in 1863 Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had already freed slaves in areas under Confederate control. Also explain that the amendments listed below were additions to the U.S. Constitution. * This will be a brief review with high school students.
• 13th amendment – December 6, 1865 -abolished slavery in the entire United States.
• 14th amendment – July 9, 1868 - made former slaves citizens of the United States and the state in which they live, forbade the denial of equal rights
• 15th amendment – February 3, 1870- said that voting rights cannot be denied to a person because of his race, did not specifically say that African Americans have the right to vote [Older students might want to explore why this distinction is important.]
• In 1865 Congress set up the Freedmen’s Bureau (the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees, and Abandoned Lands), a national government agency that provided food, schools, and medical care for free slaves and others in Virginia and the rest of the South.

4. Set the stage for the role play on the 1867 Virginia Constitutional Convention by explaining that
• According to Congress, the requirements for Virginia – and all former Confederate states – to be readmitted into the union was that they had to accept Amendments 13 and 14, and write a new constitution. Also Congress passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867 demanding that southern states ratify new constitutions guaranteeing black suffrage (right to vote).
• All Virginia voters could vote on whether to have a convention to create a new state constitution – and that among these voters was William Jasper. Be sure to explain why black voters would want a new state constitution.
• The major topic at this convention was education: whether or not to have public education for all children, and whether to have black and white children attend the same schools.

5. For the role play, divide students into three groups and assign each group a different role:  white radicals (including white northern emigrants and a few southerners), white southern/conservatives, and black freedmen/radicals.  These groups represent the three groups of delegates to the 1867 Virginia Constitutional Convention.

6. Give each group a description of their role (included below and in Materials as Role Play Handouts, lesson 2).  Explain each group's view on education, making sure to review the wording of the roles so that the students understand.  Then have the students work with the groups to read their role and put it into their own words.  They should discuss how they would vote on education as if they were delegates at the Convention. 

White Radicals – We believe that public school for all children is essential as the foundation of a democratic society, and it has worked this way in our northern states for years. Also, public schools are important to the reconstruction of the South. People need an education to be good citizens and productive people. But, while it might be fair to have black children attend any school, we worry that if we write this into this constitution, Virginia voters will vote against, or not ratify, the constitution.

Black freedmen/Radicals – We believe that public school for all children is essential as the foundation of a democratic society. To be good citizens, all children need to learn to read and write. We also believe that black children should have equal access to all schools – that is only fair. Black children deserve the same schools as white children. Education is the gateway to all the other rights and black children should be prepared to become full American citizens.

White southern/Conservatives – We are not convinced that there should be public schools for white children, whether rich or poor. We are even less sure about public education for black children and absolutely certain that black and white children should not attend the same schools. We are afraid that, since Virginians already have to pay off large war debts, adding taxes to pay for public education would be a bad idea at this time.

Another option is to add the role of newspaper reporter to the three above.  Student(s) in this role would be directed to: watch and listen carefully as the representatives from each group discuss and vote on the issues; take notes of what they hear and see, especially getting direct quotes; get together to write up a short news story telling what happened (focus on the who, what, when, where, why, and how); and have the reporters share their news story with the class.  

* If HS teachers use this role play, they could have students research additional roles before the role play takes place. Possible additions include carpetbaggers, scalawags, and Redeemers.

7. The discussion should hit on the two key questions: should there be public education for all children?  Should black and white children attend the same schools?  Remind students that their answers must represent the ideas of the people they are role playing.  Finally, each group should choose a representative to explain their group's position, and conmsequently their vote

8. Reconvene as a whole group and have each group's representative explain their group's position.  Record the votes of each person on the two education questions and announce the  winning positions. 

9. Debrief: Students should now step out of their roles and discuss how their role felt to play.  Tell students the actual convention voted to have public education for both black and white children--the first time there was public education at all in Virginia.  To wrap up the role play, complete the chart on the Constitution of 1869 (see Materials for a completed version: Constitution of 1869 Chart).  Note that although most people at that time assumed public schools would be segregated, the 1869 Constitution did not include these words.  The first Virginia superintendent of education, William H. Ruffner, developed a plan for establishing public schools in 1870 and in that plan, he instituted separate schools for blacks and whites. And, finally, point out that, since Virginians owed so much money in war debts, there was not much money left over for public schools for white students and definitely not for black students.

NOTE:  While the role play is an effective activity, most students are uncomfortable playing the role of the white southern/conservatives, and as a result need more support and debriefing.  That being said, the role play helps students understand what occurred at the convention and why--including why the votes turned out as they did.  The role play is followed up in Lesson 3, The Impact of the Jim Crow Era on Education, as studens learn about the 1902 Virginia Constitution.  Having acted out the 1867-69 Convention, they understand how laws that denied rights to African Americans came about.  The role play helps students comprehend abstract ideas.   

10. Inform students that all African American men (remind students that women did not have the vote) who voted in Fairfax County voted in favor of this Constitution. Note that African American men in Virginia had several opportunities to vote: First, they elected delegates to the Convention, then African American delegates at the Convention helped decide what would go in the Constitution. And after the Convention, African American men had another chance to vote. They, along with white male voters, voted whether of not the Constitution would be ratified. African American men voted unanimously for ratification of the Constitution of 1869.

11. Finally, ask students to compare what actually happened during Reconstruction with their hypotheses at the end of Day 1, when you asked them to hypothesize how these rights became legal for freed people in Virginia.

* You can use the information below as a reference with students. A chart of the information can be found with the attachments for this lesson: Constitution of 1869
1. National events: 13, 14 & 15 Amendments, Reconstruction Act 1867
2. Who could vote: Vote expanded to African American males
3. Who was at convention: Northern immigrants, freedmen, conservative white southerners and a few radical white southerners
4. Major issue(s): Education: public? Mixed?
5. Decisions made: Public education to be provided for both black and white children, but it was unlikely to be mixed or equally funded

12. Wrap up: ES: Ask students to write a story that William Jasper might tell his children and grandchildren explaining what life was like for Virginians, particularly African American Virginians, during Reconstruction. Explain that students will need to include specifics from this history as an integral part of their story. To make the sequence of events clearer, make 1870 the year they are telling the story and therefor cannot refer to any events later than 1870. See the Single Time Line for Lesson 2, 1808 to 1870, that contains selected and color-coded national, state, and local/Jasper family events. Also it is helpful to clarify that--while William Jasper and Thornton Gray (among other African Americans) did register and vote in 1867 and returned to the polls in 1869 to vote to adopt the constitution--they did NOT attend the VA Constitution as delegates. Another useful tool in writing is having students use this graphic organizer:

Setting: Time--1870, Place--Northern Virginia

Characters: William Jasper and his family

Historical Events: focus on Reconstruction as far as 1870

MS students can use the storytelling option above or write a letter to the editor stating and supporting an opinion of the events from the point of view of one of the people in the VA Convention role play.  The Single Time Line for Lesson 2 might be useful here.  Encourage students to use the primary sources and historical context in this lesson in their letter.  

HS:Assign students roles to write an editorial from a Fairfax newspaper in 1867. The students must present the views of the particular person in the article: White Southern Conservatives, White Radicals, Black Freedmen Radicals. The students should focus on the interests, needs, and fears of the person from whose view they write. Next, the teacher will select one editorial and “publish” the letter. Students will complete a second writing, a “letter to the editor,” in response to the published position. They must choose a person whose views are different from the views of the published editorial.