The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865–1917 | National Humanities Center

Primary Source Guides

The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865–1917

Made possible by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Title page of Lessons of the Hour by Frederick Douglass
Title page of “Lessons of the Hour,” by Frederick Douglass

The Making of African American Identity: Volume II, 1865–1917” is an open educational resource that delves into the complex themes and historical developments concerning African Americans in the United States during the period from 1865 to 1917. This volume is part two of the series. This primary source guide is organized into five sub-topics and each section contains a vast collection of primary source materials including historical documents, literary texts, and works of art which have been contextualized with annotations and notes, and feature a set of discussion questions for classroom use.


  • Explores the immediate challenges faced by newly freed African Americans after the Civil War.
  • Investigates the evolving meaning of freedom for those who had recently been emancipated.
  • Examines the resources available to African Americans as they embarked on their lives as free individuals.
  • Considers how African Americans defined and exercised power during their initial years of freedom.


  • Examines how African Americans forged personal and group identities following emancipation.
  • Considers the distinct challenges faced by those who had previously been enslaved and those who had not.
  • Highlights the central role of Christianity in the search for identity during this period.
  • Explores how a culturally disenfranchised group created a “usable past” that preserved their truth while nurturing their future.


  • Investigates the roles played by various institutions in African American life during this time.
  • Examines how these institutions both shaped and reflected African American identity.


  • Explores the forms of political action initiated by African Americans and the objectives they pursued.
  • Examines how political action was influenced by increasing discrimination and violence, particularly during the 1890s.
  • Considers how Black leaders framed their political goals for a white audience.
  • Assesses the extent to which Black political action impacted the lives of ordinary African Americans.


  • Reflects on the gains and setbacks experienced by Black Americans between 1907 and 1917.
  • Examines the extent to which African Americans charted their own paths forward.
  • Considers how the leadership of both Black and white individuals affected the lives of ordinary Black people.
  • Reflects on the group identity that African Americans had constructed between 1865 and 1917.
  • Explores the insights and lessons that African Americans carried into the postwar years and the 1920s.

This educational resource offers a comprehensive exploration of the African American experience during the challenging and transformative years following the Civil War. It provides valuable insights into the struggles, achievements, and evolving identities of African Americans during this critical period in American history.

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History / African American History / American Civil War / Reconstruction Era / United States of America /


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