Reconstruction Legacy: 14th Amendment Symposium

A discussion of reconstruction

The Reconstruction period marked the transition from slavery to freedom and citizenship for nearly four million enslaved African Americans and the start of an unprecedented experiment in biracial democracy. It saw the enactment of 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, which vastly expanded constitutional protection of citizenship rights for all Americans. The achievements of Reconstruction as well as its violent demise is one of the most poorly understood episodes in American history. Yet the impact of the Reconstruction “experiment” on black Americans, race relations, and the nation at large resonates through American history, reflected in ongoing discussions about race in America, historical and contemporary debates regarding citizenship and rights, and the ways in which this history is publicly commemorated and interpreted.

Reconstruction Legacy: The History and Contemporary Significance of the 14th Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment, enacted in 1868, was designed to secure the freedom of former enslaved Africans and African Americans by guaranteeing them the basic rights of citizenship and insuring equality before the law. It was the cornerstone of Reconstruction, became the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement, and has been central to the expansion of full constitutional rights and protection for all American citizens.

Historic Columbia and the University of South Carolina’s History Center will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Fourteenth Amendment with a public symposium on Thursday, April 19 and Friday, April 20. Leading legal scholars and historians will participate in the symposium, which will provide a public forum for discussing the Amendment’s relevance in today’s world and reflect on what it means to be a United States citizen.

Welcome and Keynote 

Thursday, April 19 | 6 – 8 p.m. | Chappelle Auditorium at Allen University

The symposium will open on Thursday evening, April 19, at Allen University’s Chappelle Auditorium with a keynote address by Randall Kennedy on the history of the 14th Amendment.

Born in Columbia’s historic Waverly Neighborhood, Dr. Kennedy is currently the Michael R. Klein Professor at Harvard Law School and a leading legal scholar, whose major areas of interest include race and the law, and civil rights and civil liberties.


Friday, April 20 | 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. | South Carolina State Museum

Stay tuned for more details, but the schedule will be as follows:

  • Continental Breakfast and Book Signing - 9:00 a.m.
  • Session 1 - 10-11:30 a.m.
  • Luncheon Program & Book Signings - 12 p.m.
  • Session 2 - 1:30-3 p.m.
  • Reception and Tours - 3:30-5 p.m. at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, 1705 Hampton Street

On Friday morning, panelists will discuss Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Act. During lunch, David Levering Lewis will deliver a keynote address at lunch on W.E.B. Du Bois, reflecting on the 150th anniversary of Du Bois’s birth and the significance of Du Bois’s history in the decades-long struggle of African Americans to secure the guarantees of legal equality and citizenship.

During the afternoon session, panelists will consider the significance of the Amendment in relationship to the rights of American citizens to legal equality, without regard to sex, gender, physical ability and other categories previously beyond the reach of such constitutional guarantee.

The symposium keynote lecture and panel discussions are free; however, the keynote luncheon on Friday is a ticketed event ($30/person). To learn more, call (803) 252.1770 x 23 or email


South Caroliniana Library

History Center at the University of South Carolina

SC Humanities

USC School of Law 

University of South Carolina

Nelson Mullins

Harpootlian Attorneys at Law

Rogers Lewis Attorneys at Law