Eric Foner, a history professor, said that although African American families were destroyed during slavery, they emerged as a strong institution during Reconstruction.

Slavery meant that Black families were constantly at risk of being disintegrated, and bondage holders had no control over their families or their lives.

The Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War, and the end to enslavement was pivotal for African Americans and their families.

The latest episode of the MSNBC podcast “Into America” features journalist Trymaine Le visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C., for an exclusive look at the exhibit “Make Good the Promises”. Spencer Crew, the museum’s emeritus director, gives an insider’s view of the exhibit and helps to tell the story of Reconstruction from the Black perspective.

4 million previously enslaved Blacks worked hard to regain their independence during Reconstruction (1865-1877). Crew stated that three new constitutional amendments “changed the nature” of citizenship in the country. The end of slavery gave African Americans the chance to reconnect with their family members who had been displaced for generations. In the hope of reuniting with long-lost loved ones, families would often travel to farms and plantations nearby.

Crew stated that it was fascinating to see how African Americans moved around the country after the Civil War. Crew said, “Well, they’re actually trying to reconnect with family members, trying to find those that were lost.”

People also found their families through the church as a way to connect with them. Black churches were able to help reunite loved ones and also established schools to encourage education, which later became an arm of the civil right movement. The churches provided hope for Black people in difficult times by providing a place of refuge and stability.

Crew stated that faith is what brings people together. “Faith is a way to forgive others for their mistakes and move on.

Even though the process of reuniting families was difficult and sometimes even impossible, the Black family unit became a “very strong institution” which was stabilized within the next generation according to Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton professor of history at Columbia University.

According to him, many people attempted to reconnect with their family members using the Freedmen’s Bureau. This agency was established by the federal government to provide a resource for former enslaved persons. He said that this system was often unsuccessful as there wasn’t a record of the events between family members.

Foner stated that there were “tragic results” because many people couldn’t locate their family members. “Or they face these issues where someone may have remarried after ten years of separation.”

Many Black families were also separated due to distances which made it difficult for relatives to travel and locate them.

Marriage was an important part in strengthening the family unit during Reconstruction. To make their relationship legally recognized, African American couples who were married in slavery took part in legal ceremonies. Crew stated that this demonstrated the importance of the sanctity and closeness between spouses and children.

Families that have been reunited had the desire to acquire land to create communities and wealth for future generations.

Crew stated that the key to owning land is being able to control your economic destiny. Crew also said that family is always the most important concern. How can I care for my immediate family and my extended family? This is why community building is so important.

One of the best ways for African Americans to purchase land after Reconstruction was to sell it to others. Many times, Blacks who owned land were renting it to landowners, who would require payment at the end. Crew reports that Blacks owned about 15% of the country’s rural land during 1900, as opposed to less then 1% today. Crew says this despite these difficulties.

New disruptions were created by The Great Migration — the movement of more than 6 million African Americans from South to Northern and Western states and cities. This had a destabilizing impact on families and was associated with issues such as unemployment, low wages, and poor housing conditions. Foner said.

Black families still experience financial inequalities. Based on data that analyzed the wealth gap between Black and White families in middle- and senior-aged families, 2019 data from the Federal Reserve Board shows that the median wealth of white families was four to six times higher than that of Black families. The report found that wealth increases with age, but substantial wealth gaps persist between Black and white families throughout their lifecycle.

Foner stated that he believes it is important to preserve all history. However, African American history has been often ignored and neglected for much of the nation’s past. Understanding the Black experience, as well as the inequalities, prejudices, and experiences that Black people faced, is essential to understanding the country’s disparities.

He said that this was the reason for the gap in wealth. To understand the history of the United States, you must know how it got to the current divisive state it is in. It’s impossible to understand the society in which we live without knowing the history.