If Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton are the gurus of the American Civil War, then Eric Foner might be described as their counterpart in the study of Reconstruction, and Foner says this:
What remains certain is that Reconstruction failed, and that for blacks its failure was a disaster whose magnitude cannot be obscured by the genuine accomplishments that did endure.
Foner sees the Reconstruction period as the beginning of a sort of unfinished revolution, where the future of freed blacks was subjugated again and again, not to the slavery system, but to institutional racism developed over the years by whites determined to maintain their superiority in Southern society. Foner believes that the worst parts of the South, found in characters such as Kaleb Wallace in Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and Bob Ewell in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, were created in the years after the Civil War as whites regained control of the land they owned before the war, and law after law was passed at the state level to keep blacks from acquiring rights--and what wasn't legislated was allowed to happen when people were content to look the other way, like lynchings, night riders, and incidents like what happened to Emmett Till. Not until the 1960's and the Civil Rights Era, says Foner, did things begin to head in the right direction at a more acceptable pace.