News Release

National Park Service Releases Reconstruction Era Theme Study

Cover of the Reconstruction Era theme study

News Release Date: July 28, 2017

Contact: Tom Crosson, 202-208-6843

WASHINGTON – On the anniversary of the ratification of the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to former slaves freed after the Civil War, the National Park Service today published a theme study looking at nationally significant historic properties of the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era. The National Historic Landmarks theme study, The Era of Reconstruction, 1861-1900,” identifies noteworthy resources related to the Era of Reconstruction that help tell the American story.

“Discovering the lesser known stories of the Reconstruction Era and identifying places and people who impacted our collective American story is the result of two years of dedicated work by historians, field practitioners, and subject matter experts,” said Dr. Joy Beasley, National Park Service Acting Associate Director for Cultural Resources, Partnerships and Science. “This theme study continues to build upon our shared narrative as Americans; knowing who we are, where we came from, and understanding the events, activities, and places that shape us citizens today is at the heart of the National Park Service mission.”

The theme study, which is the first comprehensive theme study of its kind, enhances public understanding of this complex and contested period in our nation’s history, and provides a basis for identifying and potentially nominating Reconstruction Era related properties as National Historic Landmarks. National Historic Landmarks are nationally significant historic places designated by the Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. Currently, nearly 2,600 historic places bear this national distinction.

One of the stories shared in the theme study is that of an enslaved South Carolinian man Robert Smalls, who in 1862 during the American Civil War, freed himself and his family by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, navigating it through Confederate-controlled waters, and turning it over to the US Navy. After the war, he went on to purchase his master’s old house, won election to the South Carolina State legislature, served five terms as a Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, and helped rewrite South Carolina’s constitution. Several nationally significant resources related to the Reconstruction Era and Robert Smalls were recently designated as part of the Reconstruction Era National Monument, a unit of the National Park Service. Preparation of the theme study aided the recognition of these important resources.

The National Park Service administers the National Historic Landmarks Program and oversees the designation of such nationally important resources. To learn more about National Historic Landmarks, please visit

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Last updated: November 16, 2018