TIME

America’s Second Sin

How an overlooked era still shapes our world
A group portrait of the first African-American legislators in the 41st and 42nd Congress

DURING AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS ROCK FOR MY PBS SERIES African American Lives 2, we traced the ancestry of several well-known African Americans. When I told Rock that his great-great-grandfather Julius Caesar Tingman had served in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War—enrolling on March 7, 1865, a little more than a month after the Confederates evacuated from Charleston, S.C.—he was brought to tears. I explained that seven years later, while still a young man in his mid-20s, this same ancestor was elected to the South Carolina house of representatives as part of that state’s Reconstruction government. Rock was flabbergasted, his pride in his ancestor rivaled only by gratitude that Julius’ story had been revealed at last. “It’s sad that all this stuff was kind of buried and that I went through a whole childhood and most of my adulthood not knowing,” Rock said. “How in the world could I not know this?”

I realized then that even descendants of black heroes of Reconstruction had lost the memory of their ancestors’ heroic achievements. I have been interested in Reconstruction and its tragic aftermath since I was an undergraduate at Yale University, and I have been teaching works by black authors

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from TIME

TIME3 min read
Waste Not, Want Not, Pollute Not
TOSSING UNEATEN LEFTOVERS OR slimy lettuce may feel like no big deal. But a recent report from the sustainability-focused World Resources Institute (WRI) says food waste is responsible for 8% of annual greenhouse-gas emissions. Meanwhile, 25% of agri
TIME3 min read
Brian Cox
The Scottish actor on 50 years playing the world’s worst people, the secret of HBO’s Succession and a telling tap on the shoulder
TIME5 min readPolitics
Trump And The Troops
Some time ago, a young combat veteran I’ve been mentoring for years sent me a troubling email. His unit was considering holding a significant ceremony at a property controlled by President Trump’s company. Given the recent public concerns about Air F