Los libros de texto de U.S cuentan cuentos
Las patrañas que descubrió James Loewen, cuando analizó el contenido de los principales libros de historia de las escuelas de Estados Unidos
Historiador y sociólogo Estadounidense, que analizó los libros de texto que se utilizaban en las escuelas de U.S encontrando graves errores.
Patrañas que me contó mi profe(Loewen)
Última actualización el 2021-05-20 / Enlaces de afiliados / Imágenes de la API para Afiliados
Lies My Teacher Told Me:
Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
Última actualización el 2021-07-20 / Enlaces de afiliados / Imágenes de la API para Afiliados
5. Gone with the wind
The invisibility of racism in American History Textbooks
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
The black-white rift stands at the very center of
American history. It is the great challenge to which all
our deepest aspirations to freedom must rise. If we
forget that—if we forget the great stain of slavery that
stands at the heart of our country, our history, our
experiment—we forget who we are, and we make the
great rift deeper and wider.
We have got to the place where we cannot use our
experiences during and after the Civil War for the uplift
and enlightenment of mankind.
—W. E . B . DUBOIS
More Americans have learned the story of the South
during the years of the Civil War and Reconstruction
from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind than
from all of the learned volumes on this period.
—WARREN BECK AND MYLES CLOWERS
Perhaps the most pervasive theme in our history is the domination of black America by white America. Race is the sharpest and deepest division in American life. Issues of black-white relations propelled the Whig Party to collapse, prompted the formation of the Republican Party, and caused the Democratic Party to label itself the “white man’s party” for almost a century
The struggle over racial slavery
The struggle over racial slavery may be the predominant theme in American history. Until the end of the nineteenth century, cotton—planted, cultivated, harvested, and ginned mostly by slaves—was by far our most important export.
Our graceful antebellum homes, in the North as well as in the South, were built largely by slaves or from profits derived from the slave and cotton trades. Blackwhite relations beca e the central issue in the Civil War, which killed almost as many Americans as died in all our other wars combined. Black-white relations were the principal focus of Reconstruction after the Civil War; America’s failure to allow African Americans equal rights led eventually to the struggle for civil rights a century later.
The subject also pops up where we least suspect it—at the Alamo, throughoutthe Seminole Wars, even in the expulsion of the Mormons from Missouri.
Studs Terkel is right: race is our “American obsession.” Since those first Africans and Spaniards landed on the Carolina shore in 1526, our society has repeatedly been torn apart and sometimes bound together by this issue of blackwhite relations.
Over the years white America has told itself varying stories about the enslavement of blacks.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin presents slavery as an evil to be opposed, while Gone With the Wind suggests that slavery was an ideal social structure whose passing is to be lamented.
Until the civil rights movement, American history textbooks in this century pretty much agreed with Mitchell. In 1959 my high school textbook presented slavery as not such a bad thing. If bondage was a burden for African Americans, well, slaves were a burden on Ole Massa and Ole Miss, too.
Besides, slaves were reasonably happy and well fed. Such arguments constitute the “magnolia myth,” according to which slavery was a social structure of harmony and grace that did no real harm to anyone, white or black.
Slavery was the underlying reason
On Christmas Eve, they signed a “Declaration of the I mmediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina fro the Federal Union.” Their first grievance was “that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations,” specifically this clause, which they quote:
“No person held to service or labour in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another,
shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labour, but shall be delivered up . . .”
Fugitive Slave Clause
This is of course the Fugitive Slave Clause, under whose authority Congress had passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which South Carolina of course approved. This measure required officers of the law and even private citizens in free states to participate in capturing and returning African Americans when whites claimed them to be their slaves. This made the free states complicit with slavery. They wriggled around, trying to avoid full compliance.
Americans seem slavery
Americans seem perpetually startled at slavery. Children are shocked to learn that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg say that many visitors are surprised to learn that slavery existed there—in the heart of plantation Virginia! Very few adults today realize that our society has been slave much longer than it has been free. Even fewer know that slavery was important in the North, too, until after the Revolutionary
War. The first colony to legalize slavery was not Virginia but Massachusetts. In 1720, of New York City’s population of seven thousand, sixteen hundred were African Americans, most of them slaves. Wall Street was the marketplace where owners could hire out their slaves by the day or week.
Downplay slavery in the North
Most textbooks downplay slavery in the North, however, so slavery seems to be a sectional rather than national problem. Indeed, even the expanded coverage of slavery comes across as an unfortunate but minor blemish, compared to the overall story line of our textbooks. James Oliver Horton has pointed out that “the black experience cannot be fully illuminated without bringing a new perspective to the study of American history.”
Textbook authors have failed to pesent any new perspective. Instead, they shoehorn their improved and more accurate portrait of slavery into the old “progress as usual” story line. In this saga, the United States is always intrinsically and increasingly democratic, and slaveholding is merely a temporary aberration, not part of the big picture.
Ironically, the very success of the civil rights movement allows authors to imply that the problem of black-white race relations has now been solved, at least formally. This enables textbooks to discuss slavery without departing from their customarily optimistic tone.
Textbooks have trouble acknowledging that anything might be wrong with white Americans or with the United States as a whole.
Slavery’s twin legacies
Slavery’s twin legacies to the present are the social and economic inferiority it
conferred upon blacks and the cultural racism it instilled in whites. Both
continue to haunt our society. Therefore, treating slavery’s enduring legacy is
necessarily controversial. Unlike slavery, racism is not over yet.
To function adequately in civic life in our troubled times, students must learn
what causes racism. Although it is a complicated historical issue, racism in the
Western world stems primarily from two related historical processes: taking land
from and destroying indigenous peoples and enslaving Africans to work that
land. To teach this relationship, textbooks would have to show students the
dynamic interplay between slavery as a socioeconomic system and racism as an
idea system. Sociologists call these the social structure and the superstructure.
Slavery existed in many societies and periods before and after the African slave
trade. Made possible by Europe’s advantages in military and social technology,
the slavery started by Europeans in the fifteenth century was different, because it
became the enslavement of one race by another. Increasingly, whites viewed the
enslavement of whites as illegitimate, while the enslavement of Africans became
The rationale for this differential treatment was racism. As Montesquieu, the French social philosopher who had such a profound influence on American democracy, ironically observed in 1748: “It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men, because, allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow that we ourselves are not Christian.”
Here Montesquieu presages cognitive dissonance by showing how “we” molded our ideas (about blacks) to rationalize our actions.
White supremacy permeates Mitchell’s romantic bestseller. Yet in 1988, when the American Library Association asked library patrons to name the best book in the library, Gone With the Wind won an actual majority against all other books ever published!
We have inherited
The very essence of what we have inherited from slavery is the idea that it is appropriate, even “natural,” for whites to be on top, blacks on the bottom. In its core our culture tells us—tells all of us, including African Americans—that Europe’s domination of the world came about because Europeans were smarter.
In their core, many whites and some people of color believe this. White supremacy is not only a residue of slavery, to be sure. Developments in American history since slavery ended have maintained it. Nine of the eighteen textbooks do list racism (or racial discrimination, race prejudice, etc.) in their indexes, but in several, the word never appears in the text. Racism is merely the indexer’s handle for paragraphs on slavery, segregation, and the like.
White students may conclude that all societies are racist, perhaps by nature, so racism is all right. Black students may conclude that all whites are racist, perhaps by nature, so to be antiwhite is all right. The elementary thinking in Adventure’s three sentences is all too apparent. Yet this is
the most substantial treatment of the causes of racism among all the textbooks I examined, old or new. Six pages titled “Segregation and Discrimination” in We Americans tell about lynching (but include no illustration), segregation laws, and harsh racial etiquette, but say nothing about their causes.
They minimize white complicity in it
Although textbook authors no longer sugarcoat how slavery affected African Americans, they minimize white complicity in it. They present slavery virtually as uncaused, a tragedy, rather than a wrong perpetrated by some people on others. Some books maintain the fiction that planters did the work on the plantations. “There was always much work to be done,” according to Triumph of
the American Nation, “for a cotton grower also raised most of the food eaten by his family and slaves.” Although managing a business worth hundreds of thousands of dollars was surely time-consuming, the truth as to who did most of the work on the plantation is surely captured more accurately by this quotation from a Mississippi planter lamenting his situation after the war: “I never did a day’s work in my life, and don’t know how to begin. You see me in these coarse old clothes; well, I never wore coarse clothes in my life before the war.”
No one to be angry
The emotion generated by textbook descriptions of slavery is sadness, not anger. For there’s no one to be angry at. Somehow we ended up with four million slaves in America but no owners. This is part of a pattern in our textbooks: anything bad in American history happened anonymously. Everyone named in our history made a positive contribution (except John Brown, as the next chapter shows). Or as Frances FitzGerald put it when she analyzed textbooks in 1979, “In all history, there is no known case of anyone’s creating a problem for anyone else.”
Certainly the Founding Fathers never created one. “Popular modern depictions of Washington and Jefferson,” historian David Lowenthal points out, “are utterly at variance with their lives as eighteenth-century slave-holding planters.”
Textbooks play their part by minimizing slavery in the lives of the founders. As with Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, and Christopher Columbus, authors cannot bear to reveal anything bad about our heroes. In 2003 an Illinois teacher told her sixth graders that most presidents before Lincoln were slave owners. Her students were outraged—not with the presidents, but with her, for lying to them. “That’s not true,” they protested, “or it would be in the book!” They pointed out that their textbook devoted many pages to Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, and other early presidents, pages that said not one word about their owning slaves.In real life the Founding Fathers and their wives wrestled with slavery.
Instead of analyzing racism, textbooks still subtly exemplify it. Consider a late passage (page 1,083!) in Holt American Nation extolling the value of DNA testing: “Since Jefferson had no sons, scientists compared DNA from male-line descendants of Jefferson’s paternal grandfather with DNA from descendants of Eston Hemings, Sally Hemings’s youngest son. They found a match. Since the
chances of a match were less than one percent, Jefferson very likely was Eston Hemings’s father.” Holt fails to notice that the last five words of the paragraph contradict the first five. Jefferson did have at least one son, Eston Hemings.
Changing had no sons to acknowledged no sons would fix the paragraph; surely the awkwardness was overlooked because Jefferson had no white sons, hence no “real” sons.
American history textbooks use several tactics to harmonize the contradiction between Jefferson’s assertion that everyone has an equal right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” and his enslavement of 175 human beings at the time he wrote those words. Jefferson’s slaveholding affected almost everything he did, from his opposition to internal improvements to his foreign policy.
Nonetheless, half of the books in my earlier sample never noted that Jefferson owned slaves. Life and Liberty offered a half-page minibiography of Jefferson, revealing that he was “shy,” “stammered,” and “always worked hard at what he did.” Elsewhere Life and Liberty noted all manner of minutiae about him, such as his refusal to wear a wig, that he walked rather than rode in his inaugural parade—but said nothing about Jefferson and slavery.
All recent textbooks mention that Jefferson owned slaves, but that is all they do—mention it, almost always in a subordinate clause. Here is The Americans’ entire treatment: “Despite his elite background and ownership of slaves, he was a strong ally of the small farmer and average citizen.” American Journey is similarly concise: “He had proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that
‘all men were created equal’—but he was a slaveowner.”
Pathways to the Present grants six words to Jefferson’s complicity with the institution. They follow four paragraphs of praise about him, including his opposition to the practice: “In his time, Jefferson’s commitment to equality among white men, as well as his opposition to slavery, were brave and radical ideas. Today, Jefferson remains a puzzle for historians: the author of some of the most eloquent words ever written about human freedom was himself the owner of slaves.” Actually, by 1820 Jefferson had become an ardent advocate of the expansion of slavery to the western territories. And he never let his ambivalence about slavery affect his private life. Jefferson was an average owner who had his slaves whipped and sold into the Deep South as examples, to induce other slaves to obey.
By 1822 Jefferson owned 267 slaves. During his long life, of hundreds of different slaves he owned, he freed only three, and five more at his death—all blood relatives of his.
Another textbook tactic to minimize Jefferson’s slaveholding is to admit it but emphasize that others did no better. “Jefferson revealed himself as a man of his times,” states Land of Promise. Well, what were those times? Certainly most white Americans in the 1770s were racist. Race relations were in flux, however, owing to the Revolutionary War and to its underlying ideology about the rights of mankind that Jefferson, among others, did so much to spread.
Other options were available to planters. Some, including George Washington, valued consistency
more than Henry or Jefferson and freed their slaves outright or at least in their wills. Other slave owners freed their male slaves to fight in the colonial army, collecting a bounty for each one who enlisted. In the first two decades after the Revolution, the number of free blacks in Virginia soared tenfold, from two thousand in 1780 to twenty thousand in 1800. Most Northern states did away
with slavery altogether. Thus, Thomas Jefferson lagged behind many whites of his times in the actions he took with regard to slavery.
In 1829, three years after Jefferson’s death, David Walker, a black Bostonian, warned members of his race that they should remember Jefferson as their greatest enemy. “Mr. Jefferson’s remarks
respecting us have sunk deep into the hearts of millions of whites, and never will be removed this side of eternity.”
For the next hundred years, the open white supremacy of the Democratic Party, Jefferson’s political legacy to the nation, would bear out the truth of Walker’s warning. Textbooks are in good company: the Jefferson Memorial, too, whitewashes its subject. The third panel on its marble walls is a hodgepodge of quotations from widely different periods in Jefferson’s life whose effect is to create the impression that Thomas Jefferson was very nearly an abolitionist.
Textbooks canonize Patrick Henry for his “Give me liberty or give me death”speech. Not one tells us that eight months after delivering the speech he ordered “diligent patrols” to keep Virginia slaves from accepting the British offer of freedom to those who would join their side. Henry wrestled with the contradiction, exclaiming, “Would anyone believe I am the master of slaves of my own purchase!”
Almost no one would today, because only two of all the textbooks I examined, Land of Promise and The American Adventure, even mention the inconsistency.
Henry’s understanding of the discrepancy between his words and his deeds never led him to act differently, to his slaves’ sorrow. Throughout the Revolutionary period he added slaves to his holdings, and even at his death, unlike some other Virginia planters, he freed not a one.
Nevertheless,Triumph of the American Nation quotes Henry calling slavery “as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistent with the Bible and destructive of liberty,” without ever mentioning that he held slaves. American Adventures devotes three whole pages to Henry, constructing a fictitious melodrama in which his father worries, “How would he ever earn a living?” Adventures then tells how Henry failed at storekeeping, “tried to make a living by raising tobacco,” “started another store,” “had three children as well as a wife to support,” “knew he had to make a living in some way,” “so he decided to become a lawyer.” The student who reads this chapter and later learns that Henry grew wealthy from the work of scores of slaves has a right to feel hoodwinked. None of the new textbooks does any better.
The contradiction between his words and his slave owning embarrassed Patrick Henry, who offered only a lame excuse—“I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living here without them”—and admitted, “I will not, I cannot justify it.”
Abigail Adams wrote her husband in 1774 to ask how we could “fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.”
A president owned slaves andhis policy
Our young nation got its first chance to help in the 1790s, when Haiti revolted against France. Whether a president owned slaves seems to have determined his policy toward the second independent nation in the hemisphere. George Washington did, so his administration loaned hundreds of thousands of dollars to the French planters in Haiti to help them suppress their
slaves. John Adams did not, and his administration gave considerable support to the Haitians. Jefferson’s presidency marked a general retreat from the idealism of the Revolution. Like other slave owners, Jefferson preferred a Napoleonic colony to a black republic in the Caribbean. In 1801 he reversed U.S. policy toward Haiti and secretly gave France the go-ahead to reconquer the island.
But planters in the United States were scared by the Haitian Revolution. They thought it might inspire slave revolts here (which it did). When Haiti won despite our flip-flop, the United States would not even extend it diplomatic recognition, lest its ambassador inflame our slaves “by exhibiting in his own person an example of successful revolt,” in the words of a Georgia senator.
The Ostend Manifesto
Nine of the eighteen textbooks mention how Haitian resistance led France to sell us its claim to Louisiana, but none tells of our flip-flop. Racial slavery also affected our policy toward the next countries in the Americas to revolt, Spain’s colonies. Some planters wanted our government to replace Spain as the colonial power, especially in Cuba. Jefferson suggested annexing Cuba. Fifty years later, diplomats in the Franklin Pierce administration signed the Ostend Manifesto, which proposed that the United States buy or take the island from Spain. Slave owners, still obsessed with Haiti as a role model, thus hoped to prevent Cuba’s becoming a second Haiti, with “flames [that might] extend to our own neighboring shores,” in the words of the Manifesto.
United States to have imperialist
In short, slavery prompted the United States to have imperialist designs on Latin America rather than visions of democratic liberation for the region.
Slavery affected our foreign policy in still other ways. The first requirement of a slave society is secure borders. We do not like to think of the United States as a police state, a nation like East Germany that people had to escape from, but the slaveholding states were just that. Indeed, after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which made it easy for whites to kidnap and sell free blacks into slavery, thousands of free African Americans realized they could not be safe even in Northern states and fled to Canada, Mexico, and Haiti.
Slaveholders dominated our foreign policy
The Dred Scott decision in 1857, which declared “A Negro had no rights a white man was bound to respect,” confirmed their fears. Slaveholders dominated our foreign policy until the Civil War. They were always concerned about our Indian borders and made sure that treaties with Native nations stipulated that Indians surrender all African Americans and return any runaways.
U.S. territorial expansion between 1787 and 1855 was owed in large part to slavers’ influence. The largest pressure group behind the War of 1812 was slaveholders who coveted Indian and Spanish land and wanted to drive Indian societies farther away from the slaveholding states to prevent slave escapes.
We took Florida from Spain
Even though Spain played no real role in that war, in the aftermath we took Florida from Spain because slaveholders demanded we do so. Indeed, Andrew Jackson attacked a Seminole fort in Florida in 1816 precisely because it harbored hundreds of runaway slaves, thus initiating the First Seminole War.
The Seminoles did not exist as a tribe or nation before the arrival of Europeans and Africans. They were a triracial isolate composed of Creek Indians, remnants of smaller tribes, runaway slaves, and whites who preferred to live in Indian society. The word Seminole is itself a corruption of the Spanish cimarron (corrupted to maroons on Jamaica), a word that came to mean runaway
The Seminoles’ refusal to surrender their African American members led to the First and Second Seminole Wars (1816-18, 1835-42). Whites attacked not because they wanted the Everglades, which had no economic value to the United States in the nineteenth century, but to eliminate a refuge for runaway slaves. The Second Seminole War was the longest and costliest war the United
States ever fought against Indians.
Texas and México
Slavery was also perhaps the key factor in the Texas War (1835-36). The freedom for which Davy Crockett, James Bowie, and the rest fought at the Alamo was the freedom to own slaves. As soon as Anglos set up the Republic of Texas, its legislature ordered all free black people out of the Republic.
Our next major war, the Mexican War (1846-48), was again driven chiefly by Southern planters wanting to push the borders of the nearest free land farther from the slave states.
U.S. foreign policy
Probably the clearest index of how slavery affected U.S. foreign policy isprovided by the Civil War, for between 1861 and 1865 we had two foreign policies, the Union’s and the Confederacy’s. The Union recognized Haiti and shared considerable ideological compatibility with postrevolutionary Mexico.
The Confederacy threatened to invade Mexico and then welcomed Louis Napoleon’s takeover of it as a French colony, because that removed Mexico as a standard-bearer of freedom and a refuge for runaway slaves.
Confederate diplomats also had their eyes on Cuba, had they won the Civil War. For our first seventy years as a nation, then, slavery made our foreign policy more sympathetic with imperialism than with self-determination. Textbooks cannot show the influence of slavery on our foreign policy if they are unwilling to talk about ideas like racism that might make whites look bad. When textbook authors turn their attention to domestic policy, racism remains similarly invisible. Thus, although textbooks devote a great deal of attention to Stephen A. Douglas, the most important leader of the Democratic Party at mid-century, they suppress his racism.
He needed Southern votes. During most of the 1840s and 1850s, Southern planters controlled the Supreme Court, the presidency, and at least one house of Congress. Emboldened by their power while worried about their decreasing share of the nation’s white population, slave owners agreed to support the new territories only if Douglas included in the bill a clause opening them to slavery.
Douglas capitulated and incorporated what he called “popular sovereignty” in the bill. This meant Kansas could go slave if it chose to, even though it lay north of the Missouri Compromise line, set up in 1820 to separate slavery from freedom. So, for that matter, could Nebraska. The result was civil war in Kansas.
Sentence fragments from Douglas
Here is every word of his they provided: “forever divided into free and slave states, as our fathers made it,” “thinks the Negro is his brother,” and “for a day or an hour.” textbooks silenced him completely.
Two of the six new textbooks supply at least a longer sentence fragment by Douglas: “Slavery cannot exist a day or an hour anywhere, unless it is supported by local police regulations”—Douglas’s so-called Freeport doctrine. Holt American Nation provides a longer quotation. While Pathways to the Present doesn’t quote a word, it does summarize: “Douglas supported popular sovereignty on issues including slavery.” Thus four recent textbooks do tell that the debates had something to do with slavery. They need to go further. Douglas’s position was not so vague.
On July 9, 1858, in Chicago, Douglas made his position clear, as he did repeatedly throughout that summer:
«In my opinion this government of ours is founded on the white basis. It was made by the white man, for the benefit of the white man, to be administered by white men. . . .
I am opposed to taking any step that recognizes the Negro man or the Indian as the equal of the white man. I am opposed to giving him a voice in the administration of the government. I would extend to the Negro, and the Indian, and to all dependent races every right, every privilege, and every immunity consistent with the safety and welfare of the white races; but equality they never should have, either political or social, or in any other respect whatever.»
«My friends, you see that the issues are distinctly drawn.»
Compared to Douglas, Lincoln
American History, quotes Douglas on race: “Lincoln ‘thinks the Negro is his brother,’ the Little Giant sneered.”
Compared to Douglas, Lincoln was an idealistic equalitarian, but in southern Illinois, arguing with Douglas, he, too, expressed white supremacist ideas. Thus, at the debate in Charleston he said,
“I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about the social and political equality of the white and black races [applause]—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors
Most textbook authors protect us from a racist Lincoln. By so doing, they diminish students’ capacity to recognize racism as a force in American life. For if Lincoln could be racist, then so might the rest of us be. And if Lincoln could transcend racism, as he did on occasion, then so might the rest of us.
The Confederate myth of Reconstruction
Some still remembered the names of African Americans elected to office sixty years earlier. “I know folks think the books tell the truth,” said an eighty-eight-year-old former slave, “but they shore don’t.” As those who knew Reconstruction from personal experience died off, however, even in the black community the textbook view took over.
My most memorable encounter with the Confederate myth of Reconstruction came during a discussion with seventeen first-year students at Tougaloo College, a predominantly black school in Mississippi, one afternoon in January 1970. I was about to launch into a unit on Reconstruction, and I needed to find out what the students already knew.
What was Reconstruction
“What was Reconstruction?” I asked. “What images come to your mind about that era?” The class consensus: Reconstruction was the time when African Americans took over the governing of the Southern states, including Mississippi. But they were too soon out of slavery, so they messed up
and reigned corruptly, and whites had to take back control of the state governments.
I sat stunned. So many major misconceptions glared from that statement that it was hard to know where to begin a rebuttal. African Americans never took over the Southern states. All governors were white, and almost all legislatures had white majorities throughout Reconstruction. African Americans did not “mess up”; indeed, Mississippi enjoyed less corrupt government during Reconstruction than in the decades immediately afterward. “Whites” did not take back control of
the state governments; rather, some white Democrats used force and fraud to wrest control from biracial Republican coalitions.
African Americans to believe
For young African Americans to believe such a hurtful myth about their past seemed tragic. It invited them to doubt their own capability, since their race had “messed up” in its one appearance on American history’s center stage. It also invited them to conclude that it is only right that whites be always in control. Yet my students had merely learned what their textbooks had taught them. Like almost all Americans who finished high school before the 1970s, they had encountered the Confederate myth of Reconstruction in their American history classes. I, too, learned it from my college history textbook. John F. Kennedy and his ghostwriter retold it in their portrait of L.Q.C. Lamar in Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
Dominated by white supremacy
Like their treatment of slavery, most textbooks’ new view of Reconstruction represents a sea change, past due, much closer to what the original sources for the period reveal, and much less dominated by white supremacy. The improvements have continued since the first edition of Lies appeared in 1995.
Textbooks of the 1980s and early 1990s inadvertently still took a white supremacist viewpoint. Their rhetoric made African Americans rather than whites the “problem” and assumed that the major issue of Reconstruction was how to integrate African Americans into the system, economically and politically. “Slavery was over,” said The American Way. “But the South was ruined and the Blacks had to be brought into a working society.
” Blacks were already working, of course. One wonders what the author thinks they had been doing in slavery!
The myth of lazy, helpless black folk
Similarly, according to Triumph of the American Nation, Reconstruction “meant solving the problem of bringing black Americans into the mainstream of national life.” Triumph supplied an instructive example of the myth of lazy, helpless black folk: “When white planters abandoned their
plantations on islands off the coast of South Carolina, black people there were left helpless and destitute.” In reality, these black people enlisted in Union armies, operated the plantations themselves, and made raids into the interior to free slaves on mainland plantations.
Exemplifies white-black violence
This illustration of armed whites raiding a black neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1866 riot, exemplifies white-black violence during and after Reconstruction. Forty African Americans died in this riot; whites burned down every black school and church in the city.
The key problem white violence
Today’s textbooks show African Americans striving to better themselves. But authors still soft-pedal the key problem during Reconstruction, white violence. The figures are astounding. The victors of the Civil War executed but one Confederate officeholder, Henry Wirz, notorious commandant of Andersonville prison, while the losers murdered hundreds of officeholders and other Unionists,
white and black.
Whites killed an average of one African
In Hinds County, Mississippi, alone, whites killed an average of one African American a day, many of them servicemen, during Confederate Reconstruction—the period from 1865 to 1867 when ex-Confederates ran the governments of most Southern states. In Louisiana in the summer and fall of
1868, white Democrats killed 1,081 persons, mostly African Americans and white Republicans.
In one judicial district in North Carolina, a Republican judge counted 700 beatings and 12 murders.
67 Moreover, violence was only the most visible component of a broader pattern of white resistance to black progress.
Attacking education was an important element of the white supremacists’ program. “The opposition to Negro education made itself felt everywhere in a combination not to allow the freedmen any room or building in which a school might be taught,” said Gen. O. O. Howard, head of the Freedmen’s Bureau. “In 1865, 1866, and 1867 mobs of the baser classes at intervals and in all parts of the South occasionally burned school buildings and churches used as schools, flogged teachers or drove them away, and in a number of instances murdered them.”
Almost all textbooks include at least a paragraph on white violence during Reconstruction. Most tell how that violence, coupled with failure by the United States to implement civil rights laws, played a major role in ending Republican state governments in the South, thus ending Reconstruction. But, overall, textbook treatments of Reconstruction still miss the point: the problem of Reconstruction was integrating Confederates, not African Americans, into the new order. As soon as the federal government stopped addressing the problem of ra ist whites, Reconstruction ended. Since textbooks find it hard to say anything really damaging about white people, their treatments of why Reconstruction failed still lack clarity.
As a failure of African Americans
Into the 1990s, American history textbooks still presented the end of Reconstruction as a failure of African Americans. Triumph in 1990 explained, “Other northerners grew weary of the problems of black southerners and less willing to help them learn their new roles as citizens.” The American Adventure choed: “Millions of ex-slaves could not be converted in ten years into literate voters, or successful politicians, farmers, and businessmen.” Actually, black voters voted more wisely than most white voters. To vote Republican during Reconstruction was in their clear interest, and most African Americans did, but some were willing to vote for those white Democrats who made sincere efforts to win their support. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of white Southerners blindly voted for white Democrats simply because they stood for white supremacy.
Because I, too, “learned” that African Americans were the unsolved problem of Reconstruction, reading Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma was an eyeopening experience for me. Myrdal introduced his 1944 book by describing the change in viewpoint he was forced to make as he conducted his research.
When the present investigator started his inquiry, the preconception was that it had to be focused on the Negro people. . . . But as he proceeded in his studies into the Negro problem, it became increasingly evident that little, if anything, could be scientifically explained in terms of the
peculiarities of the Negroes themselves. . . . The Negro problem is predominantly a white . . . problem.
Focusing on white racism
This is precisely the understanding many nonblacks still need to achieve. It goes against our culture. As one college student said to me, “You’ll never believe all the stuff I learned in high school about Reconstruction—like, it wasn’t so bad, it set up school systems. Then I saw Gone With the Wind and learned the truth about Reconstruction!” What is identified as the problem determines the frame of rhetoric and solutions sought. Myrdal’s insight, to focus on whites, is critical to understanding Reconstruction. Textbooks still fail to counter the Confederate myth of Reconstruction, so well portrayed in Gone With the Wind, with an analysis that has equal power.
Focusing on white racism is even more central to understanding the period Rayford Logan called “the nadir of American race relations”: the years between 1890 and 1940 when African Americans were put back into second-class citizenship.
Restrict black civil and economic rights
During this time white Americans, North and South, joined hands to restrict black civil and economic rights. Unfortunately, most Americans do not even know the term, and not one of the textbooks I examined used it.
Instead, they break the period into various eras, most of them inaccurate as well as inconsequential, such as Gay Nineties or Roaring Twenties. During the Gay Nineties, for example, the United States suffered its second-worst depression ver, as well as the Pullman and Homestead strikes and other major labor disputes. Thus “Gay Nineties” leads logically to the query, “Gay for whom?”
Some twigs about the nadir
Although none uses the term, most textbooks do provide some twigs about the nadir, while failing to provide an overview of the forest. The finest overall coverage, in American History, summarizes the period in a section entitled “The Long Night Begins”: “After the Compromise of 1877 the white citizens of the North turned their backs on the black citizens of the South. Gradually the southern states broke their promise to treat blacks fairly. Step by step they deprived them of the right to vote and reduced them to the status of second-class citizens.” American History then spells out the techniques—restrictions on voting, segregation in public places, and lynchings—which Southern whites used to maintain white supremacy.
No connection with civil rights
” The authors make no connection between the failure of the United States to guarantee black civil rights in 1877 and the need for a civil rights movement a century later. Nothing ever causes anything. Things just happen.
In fact, during Reconstruction and the nadir, a battle raged for the soul of the Southern white racist and in a way for that of the whole nation. There is a parallel in the reconstruction of Germany after World War II, a battle for the soul of the German people, a battle that Nazism lost (we hope). But in the United States, as American History tells, racism won. Between 1890 and 1907 every Southern and border state “legally” disenfranchised the vast majority of its African American voters. Lynchings rose to an all-time high. In 1896 the Supreme Court upheld segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson.
The rationale of segregation thus implies that the oppressed are apariah people. “Unclean!” was the caste message of every “colored” water ountain, waiting room, and courtroom Bible. “Inferior” was the implication of every school that excluded blacks (and often Mexicans, Native Americans, and
“Orientals”). This ideology was born in slavery and remained alive to rationalize the second-class citizenship imposed on African Americans after Reconstruction. This stigma is why separate could never mean equal, even when black facilities might be newer or physically superior. Elements of this stigma survive to harm the self-image of some African Americans today, which helps explain why Caribbean blacks who immigrate to the United States often outperform black Americans.
During the nadir, segregation increased everywhere. Particularly in the South, whites attacked the richest and most successful African Americans, just as they had the most acculturated Native Americans, so upward mobility offered no way out for blacks but only made t em more of a target. In the North as well as in the South, whites forced African Americans from skilled occupations and even unskilled jobs such as postal carriers.
Eventually our system of segregation spread to South Africa, to ermuda, and even to European-controlled enclaves in China and India.
Northerners did nothing to stop
Once Northerners did nothing to stop what came to be called the “Mississippi plan”—that state’s 1890 Constitution that “legally” (but in defiance of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments) removed African Americans from citizenship—they became complicit with it. All other Southern states and places as far away as Oklahoma followed suit by 1907, and the nation acquiesced.
American popular culture evolved to rationalize whites’ retraction of civil and political rights from African Americans. The Bronx Zoo exhibited an African behind bars, like a gorilla.
Theatrical productions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin played throughout the nadir, but since the novel’s indictment of slavery was no longer congenial to an increasingly racist white society, rewrites changed Uncle Tom from a martyr who gave his life to protect his people into a sentimental
dope who was loyal to kindly masters. In the black community, Uncle Tom eventually came to mean an African American without integrity who sells out his people’s interests. In the 1880s and 1890s, minstrel shows featuring bumbling, mislocuting whites in blackface grew wildly popular from New England to California. By presenting heavily caricatured images of African Americans who were happy on the plantation and lost and incompetent off it, these shows demeaned black ability. Minstrel songs such as “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” “Old Black Joe,” and “My Old Kentucky Home” told whites that Harriet Beecher Stowe got Uncle Tom’s Cabin all wrong: blacks really liked slavery. Second-class citizenship was appropriate for such a sorry people.
It is almost unimaginable how racist the United States became during the nadir. From Myakka City, Florida, to Medford, Oregon, whites attacked their black neighbors, driving them out and leaving the towns all-white. Communities with no black populations passed ordinances or resolved informally to threaten African American newcomers with death if they remained overnight. Thus were created thousands of “sundown towns”—probably a majority of all incorporated communities in Illinois, Indiana, Oregon, and several other Northern states. Sundown towns ranged in size from DeLand, Illinois, population 500, to Appleton, Wisconsin, 57,000, and Warren, Michigan, almost 200,000.
Many suburbs kept out Jews; in the West many towns excluded Chinese, Mexican, or Native Americans. Entire areas—most of the Ozarks, the Cumberlands, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan—became almost devoid of African Americans.
Within metropolitan areas, whites pushed blacks into what now became known as “black neighborhoods” as cities grew increasingly segregated residentially!
The crime goes unpunished.
African Americans were excluded from juries throughout the South and in many places in the North, which usually meant they could forget about legal redress even for obvious wrongs like assault, theft, or arson by whites.
Lynchings offer evidence of how defenseless blacks were, for the defining characteristic of a lynching is that the murder takes place in public, so everyone knows who did it, yet the crime goes unpunished.
Lynchings took place
During the nadir, lynchings took place as far north as Duluth. Once again, as Dred Scott had proclaimed in 1857, “a Negro had no rights a white man was bound to respect.” Every time African Americans interacted with European Americans, no matter how insignificant the contact, they had to be aware of how they presented themselves, lest they give offense by looking someone in the eye, forgetting to say “sir,” or otherwise stepping out of “their place.” Always, the threa 80 “Back to Africa” was not practicable.
Many African Americans lost hope; family instability and crime increased. This period of American life, not slavery, marked the beginning of what some social scientists have called the “tangle of pathology” in African American society.
Hates against any Americans
Boorstin and Kelley lets Woodrow Wilson off the hook for his administration’s extreme racism but does blame Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer for inciting “excitable citizens” to “vent their fears and their hates against any Americans who seemed ‘different,’ ” including “blacks, Jews, and Catholics.” Several books tell about lynchings, although none includes a picture.
Three new textbooks mention the riot in Springfield, Illinois, in 1908, in which whites drove out two-thirds of the black population, trying to make Springfield a sundown town. All of the newer texts mention the rise of the “second” Ku Klux Klan.
The nadir was national
It is also crucial that students realize that the discrimination confronting African Americans during the nadir (and afterward) was national, not just Southern. Few textbooks point this out. Therefore, most of my first-year college students have no idea that in many locales until after World War II, the North, too, was segregated: that blacks could not buy houses in communities around Minneapolis, could not work in the construction trades in Philadelphia, would not be hired as department store clerks in Chicago, and so on. As late as the 199 s and 2000s, some Northern suburbs still effectively barred African Americans. So did hundreds of independent run-down towns more than half a century after the Brown decision.
It was white racism
IRISH NEED APPLY signs in Boston to the lynching of Italian Americans in New Orleans to the pogroms against Chinese work camps in California. Some white suburban communities in the North shut out Jews and Catholics until recent years. Nonetheless, the segregation and physical violence aimed at African Americans has been of a higher order of magnitude. If African
Americans in the nadir had experienced only white indifference, as The American Adventure implies, rather than overt violent resistance, they could have continued to win Kentucky Derbies, deliver mail, and even buy houses in white neighborhoods. Their problem was not black failure or white indifference —it was white racism.
Textbooks make racism invisible
When textbooks make racism invisible in American history, they obstruct our al to present a vague feeling of optimism: in race relations, as in everything, our society is constantly getting better. We used to have slavery; now we don’t. We used to have lynchings; now we don’t. Baseball used to be all white; now it isn’t.
The notion of progress suffuses textbook treatments of black-white relations, implying that race relations have somehow steadily improved on their own. This cheery optimism only compounds the problem, because whites can infer that racism is over.“The U.S. has done more than any other nation in history to provide equal rights for all,” The American Tradition assures us.
Of course, its authors have not seriously considered the levels of human rights in the Netherlands, Lesotho, or Canada today, or in Choctaw society in 1800, because they don’t mean their declaration as a serious statement of comparative history —it is just ethnocentric cheerleading.
High school students “have a gloomy view of the state of race relations in America today,” according to nationwide polls. Students of all racial backgrounds brood about the subject. Another poll reveals that for the first time in this century, young white adults have less tolerant attitudes toward black Americans than those over thirty. One reason is that “the under-30 generation is pathetically ignorant of recent American history.”
Understanding of the past and present
Too young to have experienced or watched the civil rights movement as it happened, these young people have no understanding of the past and present workings of racism in American society.
Educators justify teaching history because it gives us perspective on the present.
If there is one issue in the present to which authors should relate the history they tell, the issue is racism. But as long as history textbooks make white racism invisible in the twentieth century, neither they nor the students who use them will be able to analyze race relations intelligently in the twenty-first.
Book: -Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (James Loewen)