What does the term "Reconstruction amendments" represent when we talk of African American history?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With respect to African American history, the Reconstruction amendments represent a great accomplishment and a great promise, but one that was not kept for decades.

There were three Reconstruction amendments.  These were amendments to the Constitution that were passed and ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War.  They were the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.  The 13th Amendment made slavery illegal in the United States.  The 14th Amendment was most important for saying that African Americans were citizens of the US and of their home states and that they had to have the “equal protection of the laws.”  The 15th Amendment specified that the right to vote could not be taken from them because of their race or because they had once been slaves.

These amendments were a great accomplishment for African Americans.  The end of slavery, in particular, was a complete blessing to them.  However, these amendments also represented an unkept promise.  While slavery ended, blacks did not get equal rights or the true right to vote for decades after the end of Reconstruction took those things from them. 

The Reconstruction amendments ended up being the basis of African American legal equality, but they did not actually bring that equality about for decades after they were passed.