In new book, historian argues the U.S. is in the midst of a ‘Third Reconstruction'

In his latest book historian Peniel Joseph argues the U.S. is in the midst of a third reconstruction, following the first reconstruction after the Civil War and the second during the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and ‘60s.

Alex Helmick / WABE

On this edition of “Closer Look,” historian Peniel Joseph discusses his new book, “The Third Reconstruction: America’s Struggle for Racial Justice in the Twenty-First Century.”

In the book, Joseph argues that recent threats on our nation’s democracy – such as the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol – have caused the country to go into a third reconstruction period, with the first occurring after the Civil War and the second during the civil rights era of the 1950s and ‘60s.

“The third reconstruction is 2008 to the present. It’s Obama, BLM 1.0, the rise of the Trump administration and MAGA … but also the activism of black women like Stacey Abrams and getting Warnock and Ossoff elected so that the Biden-Harris administration can pass any policies,” said Joseph. “This is an effort to transform what we think about things like wealth inequality, mass incarceration, racial segregation.”

While Black Americans are no longer living under Jim Crow laws, recent conflicts, such as voter suppression in the midterm election and the racially motivated murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery in 2020, show that the struggle for equality and freedom is still a daily fight for millions in the United States.

“The reason that we’re seeing these assaults on the 1619 project, the critical race theory hoax against truth teaching, the voter suppression, is that ‘lost cause’ narrative is bumping into this reconstructionist narrative,” Joseph said. “One of the reasons we’re seeing this backlash is that rhetorically we were winning the narrative war, especially in 2020.”