American History, 1877 To Present – Loewen Chapters 5
By Use this text book :
James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got
Wrong (Touchstone, 2007). ISBN 978-0743296281
NOTE: You need the 2007 (or later) edition of this book. It will 13 chapters (not 12).
For assigned texts (Loewen) you will write a response (at least 180-200 words) to a prompt based on the readings assigned for that day. (answer qauestions ) :
Loewen, Chapters 5 and 6
Summarize Loewen’s arguments regarding racism and anti-racism in textbooks and identify two examples of his evidence for each argument. How does the portrayal of racism and anti-racism in textbooks impact public understanding of these issues?
5. “Gone with the Wind”: The Invisibility of Racism in American History Textbooks
When was the country we now know as the United States first settled? Ifwe forget the lesson of the last chapter for the moment—that Native Americans settled—the best answer might be 1526. In the summer of that year, five hundred Spaniards and one hundred black slaves founded a town neat the mouth of the Pee Dee River in present-day South Carolina. Disease and disputes with nearby Indians caused many deaths in the early months of the settlement. In November the slaves rebelled, killed some of their masters, and escaped to the Indians, By then only 150 Spaniards survived; they retreated to Haiti. The ex-slaves remained behind and probably merged with nearby Indian nations.5
This is cocktail-party trivia, I suppose. American history textbooks cannot be faulted for not mentioning that the first non-Native settlers in the United States were black. Educationally, however, the incident has its uses. It shows that Africans (is it too early to call them African Americans?) rebelled against slavery from the first. It points to the important subject of three-way race relations— Indian-African-European—which most textbooks completely omit. It teaches that slavery cannot readily survive without secure borders. And, symbolically, it illusttates that African Americans, and the attendant subject of black-white race relations, were part of American history from the first European attempts to settle.
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 col- lapse, prompted the formation of the Republican Party, and caused the Democ- ratic Party to label itself the “white man’s party” for almost a century. The first time Congress ever overrode a presidential veto was for the 1866 Civil Rights Act, passed by Republicans over the wishes of Andrew Johnson. Senators mounted the longest filibuster in U.S. history, more than 534 hours, to oppose the 1964 Civil Rights bill. Thomas Byrne Edsall has shown how race prompted the sweeping political realignment of 1964-72, in which the white South went
from a Democratic bastion to a Republican stronghold.6 Race still affects poli- tics, as evidenced by the notorious Willie Horton commercial used by George Bush in the 1988 presidential campaign and the more recent candidacies of the Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, Race riots continue to shake urban centers from Miami to Los Angeles.
Almost no genre of our popular culture goes untouched by race. From the 1850s through the 1930s, except during the Civil War and Reconstruction, minstrel shows, which derived in a perverse way from plantation slavery, were the dominant form of popular entertainment in America. During most of that period Uncle Tom’s Cabin was our longest-running play, mounted in thousands of productions. America’s first epic motion picture, Birth of a Nation; first talkie, The jazz Singer; and biggest blockbuster novel ever, Gone with the Wind, were substan- tially about race relations. The most popular radio show of all time was “Arnos ‘n’ Andy,” two white men posing as humorously incompetent African Americans.’ The most popular television miniseries ever was “Roots,” which changed our culture by setting off an explosion of interest in genealogy and ethnic background. In music, race relations provide the underlying thematic material for many of our spirituals, blues numbers, reggae songs, and rap pieces.
The struggle over racial slavery may be the predominant theme in Amer- ican history. Until the end of the nineteenth century, cotton—planted, culti- vated, harvested, and ginned by slaves—was by far our most important export.8
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. Black- white relations became the central issue in the Civil War, which killed almost as many Americans as died in all our other wars combined. Black-white relations was 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 I rights a century later.
The subject also pops up where we least suspect it—at the Alamo, • throughout the Seminole Wars, even in the expulsion of the Mormons from Missouri.9 Studs Terkel is right: race is our “American obsession.”‘0 Since those ,o first Africans and Spaniards landed on the Carolina shore in 1526, our society I has repeatedly been torn apart and sometimes bound together by this issue of I black-white relations.
Over the years white America has told itself varying stories about the I enslavement of blacks. In each of the last two centuries America’s most popular I novel was set in slavery—Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Gwu I with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The two books tell very different stories; I
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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 “mag- nolia myth,” according to which slavery was a social structure of harmony and grace that did no real harm to anyone, white or black. A famous 1950 textbook by Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager actually said, “As for Sambo, whose wrongs moved the abolitionists to wrath and tears, there is some reason to believe that he suffered less than any other class in the South from its ‘peculiar institution.'”‘1 “Peculiar institution” meant slavery, of course, and Morison and Commager here provided a picture of it that came straight from Cone with the Wind.
This is not what textbooks say today. Since the civil rights movement, textbooks have returned part of the way toward Stowe’s devastating indictment of the institution. The discussion in American History begins with a passage that desctibes the living conditions of slaves in positive terms: “They were usually given adequate food, clothing, and shelter.” But the author immediately goes on to point out, “Slaves had absolutely no rights. It was not simply that they could not vote or own property. Their owners had complete control over their lives.” He concludes, “Slavery was almost literally inhuman.” American Adventures tells us, “Slavery led to despair, and despair sometimes led black people to take their own lives. Or in some cases it led them to revolt against white slaveholders.” Life and Liberty takes a flatter view: “Historians do not agree on how severely slaves were treated”; the book goes on to note that whipping was common in some places, unheard of” on other plantations. Life and Liberty ends its section on slave life, however, by quoting the titles of spirituals—”All My Trials, Lord, Soon Be Over”—and by citing the inhumane details of slave laws. No one could read any of these three books and think well of slavery. Indeed, ten of the twelve books I studied portray slavery as intolerable to the slave.12
Today’s textbooks also show how slavery increasingly dominated our political life in the firsi half of the nineteenth century. They tell that the cotton gin made slavery more profitable,” They tell how in the 1830s Southern states and the federal government pushed the Indians out of vast stretches of Missis- sippi, Alabama, and Georgia, and slavery expanded- And they tell that in the decades between 1830 and 1860, slavery’s ideological demands grew shriller,
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more overtly racist. No longer was ic enough for planters and slave traders to apologize for slavery as a necessary evil. Now slavery came to be seen “of positive value to the slaves themselves,” in the words of Triumph of the American Nation. This ideological extremism was matched by harsher new laws and customs. “Talk of freeing the slaves became more and more dangerous in the South,” in the words of The United Slates—A History of the Republic. Merely to receive literature advocating abolition became a felony in some slaveholding states. Southern states passed new ordinances interfering with the rights of masters to free their slaves. The legal position of already free African Americans became ever more precar- ious, even in the North, as white Southerners prevailed on the federal govern- ment to make it harder 10 restrict slavery anywhere in the nation.14
Meanwhile, many Northern whites, as well as some who lived below the Mason-Dixon line, grew increasingly unhappy, disgusted that their nation had lost its idealism.15 The debate over slavery loomed ever larger, touching every subject. In 1848 Thomas Hart Benton, a senator from Missouri, likened the ubiquity of the issue to a biblical plague: “You could not look upon the table but there were frogs. You could not sit down at the banquet table but there were frogs. You could not go to the bridal couch and lift the sheets but there were frogs. We can see nothing, touch nothing, have no measures proposed, without having this pestilence thrust before us.”‘6
History textbooks now admit that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War. In the words of The United States—A History of the Republic, “At the center of the conflict was slavery, the issue that would not go away,” Before the civil rights movement, many textbooks held that almost anything else—differ- ences over tariffs and internal improvements, blundering politicians, the conflict between the agrarian South and the industrial North—caused the war. This was a form of Southern apologetics.17 Among the twelve textbooks I reviewed, only] Triumph of the American Nation, a book that originated in the 1950s, still hold such a position.
Why do textbooks now handle slavery with depth and understanding? Before the 1960s publishers had been in thrall to the white South, In the 192C Florida and other Southern states passed laws requiring “Securing a Correct tory of the U.S., Including a True and Correct History of the Confederacy.”1* Textbooks were even required to call the Civil War “the War between States,” as if no single nation had existed which the South had rent apart. In ihc fifteen years between 1955 and 1970, however, the civil rights movement destroyed segregation as a formal system in America. The movement did not succeed in transforming American race relations, but it did help African AmeriJ
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cans win more power on the local level and prompted whites to abandon segre- gation. Today many school boards, curricular committees, and high school his- tory departments include African Americans or white Americans who have cast off the ideology of white supremacy. Therefore contemporary textbooks can devote more space to the topic of slavery and can use that space to give a more accurate portrayal.1*
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 Revolu- tionary War. The first colony to legalize slavery was not Virginia but Massachu- setts. In 1720, of New York City’s population of seven thousand, 1,600 were African Americans, most of them slaves. Wall Street was the marketplace where owners could hire out their slaves by the day or week.30
Most textbooks downplay slavery in the North, however, so slavery seems to be a sectional rather than national problem. Indeed, even the expanded cov- erage of slavery comes across as an unfortunate bat 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 per- spective to the study of American history.”21 Textbook authors have failed to present any new petspective. Instead, they shoehorn their improved and more accurate pottrait 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. Ironi- cally, 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 lo discuss slavery without departing from their custom- arily optimistic tone.
While textbooks now show the horror of slavery and its impact on black Amenca, they remain largely silent regarding the impact of slavery on white America, North or South. Textbooks have trouble acknowledging that anything might be wrong with white Americans, or with the United States as a whole. Perhaps telling realistically what slavery was like for slaves is the easy pan. After all, slavery as an institution is dead. We have progressed beyond it, so we can acknowledge its evils. Even the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond has mounted an exhibit on slavery that does not romanticize the institution.22
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Without explaining its relevance to the present, however, extensive coverage of slavery is like extensive coverage of the Hawley-Smoot Tariff—just more facts for hapless eleventh graders to memorize.
Slavery’s twin legacies to the present are the social and economic inferi- ority it conferred upon blacks and the cultural racism it instilled in whites. Both continue to haunt our society. Thetefore, 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 acceptable. Unlike earlier slaveries, children of African American slaves would be slaves forever and could never achieve freedom through intermarriage with the owning class. The rationale for this differential treatment was racism. As Mon- tesquieu, 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 suspi- cion would follow that we ourselves are not Christian.”23
Historians have chronicled the rise of racism in the West. Before the 1450s Europeans considered Africans exotic but not necessarily inferior. As more and more nations joined the slave trade, Europeans came to characterize Africans as stupid, backward, and uncivilized. Amnesia set in: Europe gradually found it convenient to forget that Moors from Africa had brought to Spain and Italy much of the learning that led to the Renaissance. Europeans had knov that Timbuctu, with its renowned university and library, was a center learning. Now, forgetting Timbuctu, Europe and European Americans perceiv Africa as the “dark continent.”21 By the 1850s many white Americans, includin some Northerners, claimed that black people were so hopelessly inferior thi slavery was a proper form of education for them; it also removed them phy cally from the alleged barbarism of the “dark continent.”
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The superstructure of racism has long outlived the social structure of slavery that generated it. The following passage from Margaret Mitchell’s Cone with ibe Wind, written in the 1930s, shows racism alive and well in that decade. The narrator is interpreting Reconstruction: “The former field hands found them- selves suddenly elevated to the seats of the mighty. There they conducted them- selves as creatures of small intelligence might naturally be expected to da Like monkeys or small children turned loose among treasured objects whose value is beyond their comprehension, they ran wild—either from perverse pleasure in destruction or simply because of their ignorance.”25 White supremacy permeates Mitchell’s romantic bestseller. Yet in 1988, when the American Library Associa- tion asked library patrons to name the best book in the library, Gone with the Wine/won an actual majority against all other books ever published!2”
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 cote, 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. Textbooks that do not discuss white involve- ment in slavery in the period before 1863, however, are not likely to analyze white racism as a factor in more recent years. Only five of the twelve textbooks books list racism, racial prejudice, or any term beginning with race in their indexes.27
Only two textbooks discuss what might have caused racism. The closest any of the textbooks comes to explaining the connection between slavery and racism is this single sentence from The American Tradition-. “In defense of their ‘peculiar institution,’ southerners became more and more determined to main- tain their own way of life.” Such a statement hardly suffices to show today’s stu- dents the origin of racism in our society—-it doesn’t even use the word! The
mean Adventure offers a longer treatment: “[African Americans] looked dif- :rem from members of white ethnic groups. The color of their skin made
assimilation difficult. For this reason they remained outsiders.” Here Adventure as retreated from history to lay psychology. Unfortunately for its argument,
skin color in itself docs not explain racism. Jane Elliot’s famous experiments in M’S classrooms have shown that children can quickly develop discriminatory
behavior and prejudiced beliefs based on eye color. Conversely, the leadership wsiiions that African Americans frequently reached among American Indian itions from Ecuador to the Arctic show that people do not automatically dis-
criminate against others on [he basis of skin color.2S
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Events and processes in American history, from the time of slavery to the present, are what explain racism. Not one textbook connects history and racism, however. Half-formed and uninformed notions rush in to fill the analytic vacuum textbooks thus leave. Adventure’s three sentences imply that it is natural to exclude people whose skin color is different. White students may conclude that all societies are racist, perhaps by nature, so racism is all right. Black stu- dents may conclude that all whites are racist, perhaps by nature, so to be anti- white 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 twelve textbooks.
In omitting racism or treating it so poorly, history textbooks shirk a crit- ical responsibility. Not all whites are or have been racist. Levels of racism have changed over time,” If textbooks were to explain this, they would give students some perspective on what caused racism in the past, what perpetuates it today, and how it might be reduced in the future.
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. Textbooks 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 thou- sands 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.”30
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 mil- lion slaves in America but no owners! This is part of a pattern in our textbook- anything bad in American history happened anonymously. Everyone named il our history made a positive contribution (except John Brown, as the neX chapter shows). Or as Frances FitzGerald put it when she analyzed textbooks f1
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 moderaj
depictions of Washington and Jefferson are utterly at variance with their lives as eighteenth-century slave-holding planters,”” Textbooks play their part by mini-
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mizing 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. Nevertheless, almost half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were slaveowners.
In real life the Founding Fathers and their wives wrestled with slavery. 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 contra- diction, exclaiming, “Would anyone believe I am the master of slaves of my own purchase!”” Almost no one would today, because only two of the twelve text- books, Land of Promise and The American Adventure, even mention the inconsis- tency.’4 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 ike American Nation quotes Henry calling slavery “as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistent with the Bible and destructive of liberty,” without ever men- tioning 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 store- keeping, “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 mme 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.
Even more embarrassing is the case of Founding Father Thomas Jef- ferson. American history textbooks use several tactics to harmonize the contra- diction between Jefferson’s assertion that everyone has an equal right to “Life,
ttrty, and the pursuit of Happiness” and his enslavement of 175 human leings at the time he wrote those words. JefTerson’s slaveholding affected almost everything he did, from his opposition to internal improvements to his
eign policy.’5 Nonetheless, half of our textbooks never note that Jefferson owned slaves. Life and Liberty offers a half-page minibiography of Jefferson,
ivealing that he was “shy,” “stammered,” and “always worked hard at what he Elsewhere Life contrasts Jefferson’s political beliefs with Alexander
milton’s and supplies six paragraphs about “Jeffersonian Changes” of Feder- ist policies, noting that Jefferson refused to wear a wig, repealed a whiskey
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tax, and walked rather than rode in his inaugural parade. Life dud Liberty says nothing about Jefferson and slavery, however. American History offers six dif- ferent illustrations of the man for us to admire but makes no mention of his slaveholding. The Challenge of freedom mentions Jefferson on sixteen different pages but never in the context of slavery.
Even textbooks that admit that Jefferson owned slaves go out of their way to downplay the fact. The American Way buries his complicity with the institu- tion in a paragraph about his opposition to the practice:
In his Notes on the State of Virginia, published in 1787, Thomas Jefferson spoke out against owning slaves. Slavery, he said, made tyrants out of the masters and destroyed the spirit of the slaves, , . . Although Jef- ferson and others who owned slaves spoke against slavery, many people did not believe that a mixed society of equals could work.
“Jefferson and others who owned slaves” is ambiguous. Only the careful reade will infer that Jefferson was a slaveowner. Also ambiguous is Notes on the Slate of I Virginia, which contains lengthy arguments about why blacks and whites can I never participate in society equally. The attempt “will probably never end but i the extermination of the one or the other race,” Jefferson luridly concluded. Wt has mischaracterized the source.*6
The paragraph in American Adventures is more forthright:
The idea of slavery bothered Thomas Jefferson all his life. As an adult, he himself owned many slaves. He depended on their labor for raising tobacco on his plantation. Yet he understood that slavery was wrong, terribly wrong. It was the opposite of the thing he valued most in life—freedom.
Again, the thrust of the treatment, the thing most likely to be remembered, j that Jefferson was an opponent of slavery, not a slaveowner.
Textbooks stress that Jefferson was a humane master, privately tormen by slavery and opposed to its expansion, not the type to destroy families I selling slaves. In truth, by 1820 Jefferson had become an ardent advocate of I expansion of slavery to the western territories. And he never let his ambivale about slavery affect his private life. Jefferson was an average master who had I slaves whipped and sold into the Deep South as examples, to induce other! to obey. By 1822, Jefferson owned 267 slaves. During his long life, of hund
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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 emphasiz.e 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 American1! in the 1770s were racist. Race relations were in flux, however, due to the Revolutionary War and to its underlying ideology about the rights of mankind thai Jefferson, among others, did so much to spread. Five thousand black soldiers fought alongside whites in the Continental Army, “with courage and skill,” nccording to Triumph of the American Nation. In reality, of course, some fought “with courage and skill,” like some white recruits, and some failed to fire their guns and ran off, like some white recruits.56 But because these men fought in integrated units for the most part and received equal pay, their existence in itself helped decrease white racism,5*
Moreover, the American Revolution is one of those moments in our his- tory when the power of ideas made a real difference, “In contending for the bir thr ight of freedom,” said a captain in the army, “we have learned to feel for the bondage of others.”10 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,”41 The contradiction between his words and his slaveowning embarrassed Patrick Henry, who offered only ii lame excuse—”I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living here without them”- ;md admitted, “I will not, I cannot justify it.”4! Other options were available to planters. Some, including George Washington, valued consistency more than Henry or Jefferson and freed their slaves outright or at east in their wills. Other slaveowners freed their male slaves to fight in the
ilonial army, collecting a bounty for each one who enlisted. In the first two lecades after the Revolution, the number of free blacks in Virginia soared ten- fold, from 2,000 in 1780 to 20,000 in 1800. Most Northern states did away with slavery altogether. Thus Thomas Jefferson lagged behind many whites of us nines in the actions he look wiih regard to slavery45
Manumission gradually flagged, however, because most of the white Southerners who, like Jefferson, kept their slaves, erew rich. Their neighbors
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rought well of them, as people often do of those richer than themselves. To a :e the ideology of the upper class became the ideology of the whole /, and as the Revolution receded, that ideology increasingly justified
ry. Jefferson himself spent much of his slave-earned wealth on his mansion Vlomicello and on books that he later donated to the University of Virginia;
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these expenditures became part of his hallowed patrimony, giving history yet another reason to remember him kindly,14
Other views are possible, however. 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, white- washes its subject. On its marble walls a carved panel proclaims Jefferson’s \ boast, “I have sworn eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the , mind of men,” without ever mentioning his participation in racial slavery. Per- . haps asking a marble memorial to tell the truth is demanding too much. Should history textbooks similarly be a shrine, however? Should they encourage nu- I dents to worship Jefferson? Or should they help students understand him, I wrestle with the problems he wrestled with, grasp his accomplishments, and I also acknowledge his failures?
The idealistic spark in our Revolution, which caused Patrick Henry such I verbal discomfort, at first made the United States a proponent of democracy^ around the world. However, slavery and its concomitant ideas, which legitiJ mated hierarchy and dominance, sapped our Revolutionary idealism. Most ttttM books never hint at this clash of ideas, let alone at its impact on our fordgfl policy.
After the Revolution, many Americans expected our example woulfl inspire other peoples. It did. Our young nation got its first chance to help in thfll 1790s, when Haiti revolted against France, Whether a president owned slavJ seems to have determined his policy toward the second independent nation iflj the hemisphere. George Washington did, so his administration loaned hundred! of thousands of dollars to the French planters in Haiti to help them suppre^B their slaves. John Adams did not, and his administration gave considerable SUM port to the Haitians. Jefferson’s presidency marked a general retreat from tbM idealism of the Revolution. Like other slaveowners, Jefferson preferred fll 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 tn island. In so doing, the United States not only betrayed its heritage, but also acted against its own self-interest. For if France had indeed been able lo retakd Haiti, Napoleon would have maintained his dream of an American empire. •!
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United States would have been hemmed in by France to its west, Britain to its north, and Spain to its south. 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 Geotgia senator.46 Five of the twelve textbooks mention how Haitian resistance led France to sell us its claim to Louisiana, but none tells of our flip-flop. Indeed, no textbook ever makes any connection between slavery and US, foreign policy.
Racial slavery also affected our policy toward the next countries in the Americas to revolt, Spain’s colonies. Haiti’s example inspired them to seek inde- pendence, and the Haitian government gave Simon Bolivar direct aid. Our statesmen were ambivalent, eager to help boot a European power out of the hemisphete but worried by the racially mixed rebels doing the booting. Some planters warned our government to replace Spain as the colonial power, espe- cially in Cuba. Jefferson suggested annexing Cuba. Fifty years later, diplomats in the Franklin Pierce administration signed the Ostend Manifesto, which pro- posed thai the United States buy or take the island from Spain. Slaveowners, 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.47 In short, slavery prompted the United States to have imperialist designs on Latin America rather than visions of democratic lib- eration fot ihe region.
Slavery affected our foreign policy in still other ways. The first require- ment of a slave society is secure borders. We do not like to think of the United Slates 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 Dred Scott deci- sion in 1857, which declared “A Negro had no rights a white man was bound to respect,” thousands of free African Americans realized they could not be safe even in Northern states and fled to Canada, Mexico, and Haiti.48 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 stipu-
ed thai Indians surrender all African Americans and return any runaways.4* S. territorial expansion between 1787 and IS55 was due in large part
avers’ influence. The largest pressure group behind the War of IS12 was iveholdets who coveted Indian and Spanish land and wanted to drive Indian
S farther away from the slaveholding states to prevent slave escapes. Even ugh Spain was our ally during that war, in the aftermath we took Florida
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from Spain because slaveholders demanded we do so. Indeed, Andrew Jackson attacked a Seminole fort in Florida in 1816 precisely because it harbored hun- dreds of runaway slaves, thus initiating the First Seminole War.'”
The Seminoles did not exist as a tribe or nation before the arrival of Euro- peans 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 Seminolt is itself a corruption of the Spanish cinmrrou (corrupted to maroons on Jamaica), a word that came to mean “runaway slaves.”51
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,” The college textbook America: P&i and Prt- sent tells why we fought it, putting the war in the context of slave revolts:
The most sustained and successful effort of slaves to win their freedom by force of arms took place in Florida between 1835 and 1842 when hundreds of black fugitives fought in the Second Seminole War along- side the Indians who had given them a haven. The Seminoles were resisting removal to Oklahoma, but for the blacks who took part, the war was a struggle for their own freedom, and the treaty that ended it allowed most of them to accompany their Indian allies to the trans- Mississippi West,
This is apparently too radical for high school: only six of the twelve text even mention the war. Of these, only four say that ex-slaves fought with Seminoles; not one tells that the ex-slaves were the real reason for the war.
Slavery was also perhaps the key factor in the Texas War (1835-36). Thl freedom for which Davy Crockett, James Bowie, and the rest fought at die 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.’1 Om 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 farthsfl from the slave states. Probably the clearest index of how slavery affected USI foreign policy is provided by the Civil War, foe between 1861 and 1865 we had two foreign policies, the Union’s and the Confederacy’s, The Union lecog-j nized Haiti and shared considerable ideological compatibility with postrcvolu-
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formal black suit, usually rumpled and always too short for his long arms and legs. Douglas was what we would call a flashy dresser. He wore shirts with rufiles, fancy embroidered vests, a broad fell hat. He had a rapid-fire way of speaking thai contrasted with Lincoln’s slow, deliberate style
Lincoln’s voice was high pitched, Douglas’s deep. Both had to have powerful lungs to make themselves heard over street noises and the bustle of the crowds. They had no public address systems to help them.
The author of The American Way concentrates in a similar fashion appearances and voices:
One member of the audience, Gustave Koerner, reported how each of the candidates looked and what effect each had on his audience:
“Douglas was fighting for his political life. No greater contrast could be imagined than the one between Lincoln and Douglas. The latter was really a little giant physically . . . while Lincoln, when standing erect, towered to six feet four inches, Lincoln, awkward in
posture and leaning a little forward, stood calm . . . He addressed his hearers in a somewhat familiar yet very earnest way with a clear, dis- tinct, and far-reaching voice, generally well controlled, but sometimes expressive of sadness, though at times he could assume a most humorous and even comical look.. ,.” [ellipses in the textbook]
So we learn that Douglas was a flashy dresser and spoke powerfully—but’ are his ideas? What did he say?
Although Way quotes nine sentences of this bystander’s description, twelve textbooks combined give us just three sentence fragments from Doug himself. Here is every word of his they provide:
“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.”
Just twenty-four words in twelve booksl While celebrating the “Little Gia his “powerful speech” or “splendid oratory,” nine textbooks silence him pletely. Instead, the omnipresent authorial voice supplies his side of the “Douglas was for popular sovereignty.” This summary from Lift and Libi
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shorter than most but otherwise representative. Of course, phrased this abstractly, who would oppose popular sovereignty?
Douglas’s position was not so vague, however. The debate was largely about the morality of racially based slavery and the position African Americans should eventually hold in our society. That is why Paul Angle chose the title Created Equal? for his centennial edition of the debates.58 On July 9, 1858, in Chicago, Douglas made his position dear, 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 while man, I am opposed to giving him a voice in [he 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.55
Texibook readers cannot see that the issues are distinctly drawn, however, muse textbooks give them no access to Douglas’s side. American History is the only texlbook that quotes Stephen Douglas on race: “Lincoln ‘thinks the Negro is his brother,’ the Little Giant sneered.”
Why do textbooks censor Douglas? Since they devote paragraphs to his wardrobe, it cannot be- for lack of space. To be sure, textbook authors rarely
te anyone. But more particularly, the heroification process seems to be oper- iling again, Douglas’s words might make us think badly of him.
Compared to Douglas, Lincoln was an idealistic equalitarian, but in llithern Illinois, arguing with Douglas, he too expressed white supremacist ideas. us at the debate in Charleston he said, “I am not, nor ever have been in favor of
ringing about the social and political equality of the white and black races |applause|—that 1 ant not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors
groes,” Textbook authors protect us from a racist Lincoln. By so doing, they lish students’ capacity to recognize racism as a force in American life. For if
ttln could be racist, then so might the res! of us be. And if Lincoln could tran- d racism, as he did on occasion, then so might the rest of us.
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During the Civil War, Northern Democrats countered the Republican charge that they favored rebellion by professing to be the “white man’s party,” I They protested the government’s emancipation of slaves in the District of I Columbia and its diplomatic recognition of Haiti. They claimed Republicans had “nothing except ‘nigger on the brain.'” They were enraged when the U.S.I army accepted African American recruits. And they made race a paramount! factor in their campaigns.
In those days before television, parties held coordinated rallies. On the I last Saturday before the election, Democratic senators might address crowds inl each major city; local officeholders would hold forth in smaller towns. Each ofl these rallies featured music. Hundreds of thousands of songbooks were print™ so the party faithful might sing the same songs coast to coast. A favorite ofl 1864 was sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy”:
THE NEW NATIONAL ANTHEM “NIGGER DOODLE DANDY”
Yankee Doodle is no more, Sunk his name and station;
Nigger Doodle takes bis place, And favors amalgamation.
CHORUS: Nigger Doodle’s all the go, Ebony shins and bandy,
“Loyal”people all must bow
To Nigger Doodle dandy.
The white breed is under par ft lacks the rich a-romy,
Give us something black as tar, Give us “Old Dahomey.”
CHORUS: Nigger Doodle’s al! the go, £7″c.
Blubber lips are killing sweet,
And kinky heads are splendid; And oh, it makes such bully feet
To have the heels extended.
CHORUS: Nigger Doodle’s all the go, Ot
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I have shared these lyrics with hundreds of college students and scores of high school history teachers. To get audiences to take the words seriously, I usu- ally try to lead them in a singalong. Often even all-white groups refuse. They are shocked by what they read. Nothing in their high school history textbooks hinted that national politics was ever like this.
Partly because many party members and leaders did not identify with the war effort, when the Union won Democrats emerged as the minority party. Republicans controlled Reconstruction. Like slavery, Reconstruction is a subject on which textbooks have improved since the civil rights movement. The earliest accounts, written even before Reconstruction ended, portrayed Republican state governments struggling to govern fairly but confronted with immense problems, not the least being violent resistance from racist ex-Confederates. Textbooks written between about 1890 and the 1960s, however, painted an unappealing portrait of oppressive Republican rule in the postwar period, a picture that we might call the Confederate myth of Reconstruction. For years black families kep! the truth about Reconstruction alive. The aging slaves whose stories were recorded by WPA writers in the 1930s remained proud of” blacks’ roles during Reconstruction. Some still remembered the names of African Americans elected lo 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.”60 As those who knew ^construction 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 Reconstruc-
tion came during a discussion with seventeen first-year students at Tougaloo -ollege, a predominantly black school in Mississippi, one afternoon in January 970.1 was about to launch into a unit on Reconstruction, and I needed to find
out what the students already knew. “What was Reconstruction?” I asked. “What nages come to your mind about that era?” The class consensus: Reconstruction
was ihe time when African Americans took over the governing of the Southern S, including Mississippi. But they were too soon out of slavery, so they :d 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 was hard to know where to begin a rebuttal. African Americans never
over the Southern states. All governors were white and almost all legisla- , had white majorities throughout Reconstruction. African Americans did
: Jniess up”; indeed, Mississippi enjoyed less corrupt government during econstmction than in the decades immediately afterward. “Whites” did not
” G O N E W I T H T H E W I N D 1 149
take back control of the state governments; rather, some white Democrats used force and fraud to wrest control from biracial Republican coalitions.
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 ghost writer retold it in their portrait of L. Q._C, Lamar in Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
Compared to the 1960s, today’s textbooks have vastly improved theii treatments of Reconstruction. All but three of the twelve textbooks I surveys paint a very different picture of Reconstruction from Gone with ihe Wind.”1 No longer do histories claim that federal troops controlled Southern society decade or more. Now they point out that military rule ended by 1868 in all 1 three states. No longer do they say that allowing African American men to vo set loose an orgy of looting and corruption. The 1961 edition of TriumphoU American Nation condemned Republican rule in the South: “Many of the ‘c petbag’ governments were inefficient, wasteful, and corrupt.” In stark conti the 1986 edition explains that “The southern reconstruction legislatures stafl many needed and long overdue public improvements , . . strengthened pub education . . . spread the tax burden more equitably . . . [and] introdu overdue reforms in local government and the judicial system.”
Like their treatment of slavery, textbooks’ new view of Reconstruc represents a sea change, past due, much closer to what the original sources I the period reveal, and much less dominated by white supremacy, Howeve: the way the textbooks structure their discussion, most of them inadvertently I take a white supremacist viewpoint. Their rhetoric makes African Ameri rather than whites the “problem” and assumes that the major issue of 1 struction was how to integrate African Americans into the system, econotnif and politically. “Slavery was over,” says The American Way. “But the South’ ruined and the Blacks had to be brought into a working society,” Blacks’ already working, of course. One wonders what the author thinks they had j doing in slavery!62 Similarly, according to Triumph of the American Nation, 1 struction “meant solving the problem of bringing black Americans intQ mainstream of national life ” Triumph supplies an instructive example
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myth oflazy, helpless black folk: “When white planters abandoned their planta- tions 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. The archetype of African Americans as depen- dent or others begins here, in textbook treatments of Reconstruction. It con- tinues to ihc present, when many white Americans believe blacks work less than whiles, even though census data show they work more.6′
In reality, white violence, not black ignorance, was the key problem during Reconstruction. 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,64 In Hinds County, Mississippi, alone, whites killed an average of one African American a day, many of them ser- vicemen, during Confederate Reconstruction—the period from 1865 to 1867 when ex-Con federates ran the governments of most Southern states. In Louisiana in the summer and fall of 1868, white Democrats killed 1,081 per- sons, mostly African Americans and white Republicans.^5 In one judicial district in North Carolina, a Republican judge counted 700 beatings and 12 murders.66
lustration of armed whites raiding a black neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee, L866 riot, exemplifies white-black violence during and after Reconstruction. Forty
.Mean Americans died in this riot; whites burner! down every black church in the city.
• G O N E W I T H T H E W I N D ”
Although the narratives in textbooks have improved, some of the pictures have i Four of the twelve textbooks feature this cartoon, “The Solid South” represented i delicate white woman. She is weighed down by Grant and armaments stuffed I carpetbag, accompanied by bluecoated soldiers of occupation. Textbook autfiors I discuss this cartoon to encourage students to analyze its point of view. The Ami Way at least asks, “How do you interpret this cartoon?” The other three tex merely use the drawing to illustrate Reconstruction: “The South’s heavy burden tions Triumph of the American Naiion.
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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 leachers or drove them away, and in a number of instances murdered them.”1”’
With the exception of The American Way and Discovering, American History, each of the twelve textbooks includes at least a paragraph on white violence during Reconstruction. Six of twelve textbooks 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 Recon- struction.’5* Hut, overall, textbook treatments of Reconstruction still miss the point: the problem of Reconstruction was integrating Conjvdfrates, not African Americans, into the new order. As soon as the federal government stopped addressing the problem of racist whites, Reconstruction ended. Since textbooks find it hard to say anything really damaging about white people, their treat- ments of why Reconstruction failed lack clarity. Triumph presents the end of ^construction as a failure of African Americans: “Other northerners grew weary of the problems of black southerners and less willing to help them learn their new roles ;is citizens.” The American Adventure echoes: “Millions of ex-slaves could not be converted in ten years into literate voters, or successful politicians, farmers, and businessmen.”
Because 1 too “learned” that African Americans were the unsolved prob- lem of Reconstruction, reading Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma was an
‘e-opening experience for me. Myrdal introduced his (944 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 thai it had to be focused on the Negro people. . . . But as he pro- ceeded 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.69
” G O N E W I T H THE W I N D ” – 1 5 3
154 • LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME
This is precisely the change textbook authors still need to make. Their I failure to make it lies behind the appalling results of a 1976 national survey of first-year college students, a majority of whom ventured that Reconstruction led I to “unparalleled corruption among the entrenched carpetbagger governors and I their allies in the black dominated legislatures of the defeated states”—precisely I the Confederate myth of Reconstruction.70 Textbooks in 1976 no longer said I that. But they failed and still fail to counter this pervasive myth with an analysis I that has real power. As one student said to me, “You’ll never believe all the stuff I 1 learned in high school about Reconstruction—like, it wasn’t so bad, it set up I school systems. Then 1 saw Gone wiih the Wind and learned the truth about I Reconstruction!” What is identified as the problem determines the frame of I rhetoric and solutions sought. Myrdal’s insight, to focus on whites, is critical to I understanding Reconstruction.
Focusing on white racism is even more central to understanding thefl period Rayford Logan called “the nadir of American race relations”: the years I between 1890 and 1920, when African Americans were again put back into! second-class citizenship.7′ During this time white Americans, North and South, 1 joined hands to restrict black civil and economic rights. Perhaps because thcfl period was marked by such a discouraging increase in white racism, ten of thH twelve textbooks ignore the nadir. The finest coverage, in American History, sunn marizes the aftermath of Reconstruction in a section entitled “The Long Night j Begins.” “After the Compromise of 1877 the white citizens of the North lurnfl their backs on the black citizens of the South. Gradually the southern statfl 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.” America History then spells out the techniques—restrictions on voting, segregation in public places, and lynchings—which southern whites used to maintain wbH supremacy.
Triumph of the American Nation, on the other hand, sums up in these bUflil words; “Reconstruction left many major problems unsolved and created newifl equally urgent problems. This was true even though many forces in the NolB and the South continued working to reconcile the two sections.” These sen- tences are so vague as to be content-free. Frances FitzGerald used an earlier^B sion of this passage to attack what she called the “problems” approach • American history. “These ‘problems’ seem to crop up everywhere.” she deli panned. “History in these texts is a mass of problems.”” Five hundred pifl later in Triumph, when the authors reach the civil rights movement, race rtfc- tions again becomes a “problem.” The authors make no connection between •
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 which Nazism lost (we hope). But in the Uniied Slates, as American History tells, racism won. Between 1890 and 1907 every Southern and border state “legally” disfranchised the vast majority of its African American voters. Lynchings rose to an all-time high, (n 1896 the Supreme Court upheld segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson. No textbook explains the rationale of segregation, which is crucial to understanding its devastating effect on black and white psyches. Describing the 1954 Supreme Court decision that would begin to undo segregation, The American Way says, ”No separate school could ttuly bv equal for Blacks,” but offers no clue as to why this would be so.
Textbooks need to offer the sociological definition of segregation; a system of racial etiquette that keeps the oppressed group separate from the oppressor when both are doing equal tasks, like learning the multiplication tables, but allows intimate closeness when the tasks are hierarchical, like cooking or cleaning for while employers. The rationale of segregation thus implies that the oppressed art a pariah people. “Unclean!” was the caste message of every “colored” water fountain, 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. Jackie Robinson was iiii the first black player in major league baseball. Blacks had played in the major agues in the nineteenth century, but by 1889 whites had forced them out. In 911 the Kentucky Derby eliminated black jockeys after they won fifteen of the
first twenty-eight derbies.74 Particularly in the South, whites attacked the richest nd most successful African Americans, just as they had the most acculturated
Native Americans, so upward mobility offered no way out for blacks but only de them more of 3 target. In the North as well as in the South, whites forced
” G O N E W I T H T H E W I N D ‘ 155
These cartoons by Thomas Mast mirror the revival of racism in the North. Above. “And Not Tnis Man?” from Harper’s weekly, August 5, 1865, provides evidence of Mast’s idealism in the early days after the Civil War. Nine years later, as Reconstruction was beginning to wind down, Nast’s images of African Americans reflected the increasing racism of the times. Opposite is “Colored Rule in a Reconstructed (?) State,” from the same journal, March 14, 1S74. Such idiotic legislators could obviously be discounted as the white North contemplated giving up on black civil rights.
African Americans from skilled occupations and even unskilled jobs such as postal carriers.75 Eventually our system of segregation spread to South Africa, to Bermuda, and even to European-controlled enclaves in China.
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.n 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 evcn-
156 • L I E S MY T E A C H E R T O L D ME
tually 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 Cal- ifornia. 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 Vir- ginny,” “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.77
Textbooks abandoned their idealistic presentations of Reconstruction in favor of the Confederate myth, for if blacks were inferior, then the historical period in which they enjoyed equal rights must have been dominated by wrong-thin king Americans. Vaudeville continued the portrayal of silly, lying, chicken-stealing black idiots. So did early silent movies. Some movies made more serious charges against African Americans: D, W. Griffith’s racist epic Birth of a Nation showed them obsessed with interracial sex and debased by corrupt white carpetbaggers.
” G O N E W I T H T H E W I N D ” • 157
Not only industrial jobs but even moving services were reserved for whites in some cities.
In politics, the white electorate had become so racist by 1892 that the Democratic candidate, Grover Cleveland, won the White House partly by tar- ring Republicans with their attempts to guarantee civil rights to African Ameri- cans, thereby conjuring fears of “Negro domination” in the Northern as well as Southern white mind. From the Civil War to the end of the century, not a single Democrat in Congress, representing the North or the South, ever voted in favor of any civil rights legislation. The Supreme Court was worse: its segregationist decisions from 1896 (Pfery) through 1927 (Ricev. GongLum, which barred Chi- nese from white schools) told the nation that whites were the master race. We have seen how Woodrow Wilson won the presidency in 1912 and proceeded to segregate the federal government. Aided by Birth of a Nation, which opened in 1915, the Ku Klux Klan rose to its zenith, boasting over a million members. The KKK openly dominated the state government of Indiana for a time, and it proudly inducted Pres, Warren G. Harding as a member in a White House cere- mony. During the Wilson and Harding administrations, perhaps one hundred race riots took place, more than in any other period since Reconstruction. White mobs killed African Americans across the United States. Some of these events, like the 1919 Chicago riot, are well known. Others, such as the 1921 riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in which whites dropped dynamite from an airplane onto a
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black ghetto, killing more than 75 people and destroying more than 1,100 homes, have completely vanished from our history books.78
It is almost unimaginable how racist the United States became during and just after the nadir. Mass attacks by whites wiped out or terrorized black com- munities in the Florida Keys, in Springfield, Illinois, and in the Arkansas Delta, and were an implicit, ever-present threat to every black neighborhood in the nation. Some small communities in the Midwest and West became “sundown” towns, informally threatening African Americans with death if they remained overnight. 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 char- acteristic of a lynching is that the murder takes place in public, so everyone knows who did it, yet the crime goes unpunished. During the nadir lynchings took place as far north as Duluth. Once again, as Dred Scon 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 insignif- icant 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 oth- erwise stepping out of “their place.” Always, the threat of overwhelming force lay just beneath the surface.79
The nadir left African Americans in a dilemma. An “exodus” to form new black communities in the West did not lead to real freedom. Migration north led only to segregated urban ghettoes. Concentrating on Booker T. Washington’s plan for economic improvement while foregoing civil and political rights could not work, because economic gains could not be maintained without civil and political rights.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.3′ Indeed, some historians date low black morale to even later periods, such as the great migration to Northern cities (1918-70), the Depression (1929-39), or changes in urban life and occupational structure after World War II. Unfortunately, no textbook discusses the changing levels of white racism or black reaction in any of these periods. In any event this tangle was the result, not the cause, of the segregation and discrimination African Americans faced. Black jockeys and mail carriers were shut out, not because they were inadequate, but because they succeeded.
‘ G O N E W I T H THE W I N D 1 159
Lynch mobs often posed for the camera. They showed no fear of being identified because they knew no white jury would convict them. Mississippi: Conflict and Change, a revisionist state history textbook I co-wrote, was rejected by the Mississippi State Textbook Board partly because it included this photograph. At the trial that ensued, a rating committee member stated that material like this would make it hard for a teacher to control her students, especially a “white lady teacher” in a predominantly black class. At this point the judge took over the questioning. “Didn’t lynchings happen in Mississippi?” he asked. Yes, admitted the rating committee member, but it was all so long ago, why dwell on it now? “It is a history book, isn’t it?” asked the judge, who eventually ruled in the book’s favor. None of the twelve textbooks in my sample includes a picture of a lynching. I hasten to reassure that no classroom riots resulted from our book or this photograph.
Several textbooks point out individual trees in the nadir forest. From The American Way students learn that “By the early 1900s, [white workers] had con- vinced most labor unions not to admit Blacks.” Land of Promise teaches that “Woodrow Wilson’s administration was openly hostile to black people.” The United Scales—A History of the Republic mentions the exodus to Kansas. Seven textbooks mention the Chicago riot. Several offer a description of lynchings. All twelve books mention P/essy v. Ferguson. Life and Liberty reveals that Southern
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states passed “laws that took the vote away from blacks.” A History of the Republic, Ldnd of Promise, and The American Pageant provide enough trees that readers might infer some kind of forest, except that twenty pages on unrelated topics usually separate each tree from the next.” Only American History and The Amer- ican Adventure summarize the nadir period.S! The other ten textbooks offer no clue that race relations in the United States systematically worsened for almost half a century. None of the textbooks analyzes the causes of the worsening.84
Six textbooks imply or state that Jackie Robinson was “the first black baseball player ever allowed in the major leagues,” in the words of Life and Liberty, even though he wasn’t, leaving students with the unmistakable implication of gener- ally uninterrupted progress to the present,”5
Textbook authors would not have to invent their descriptions of the nadir from scratch. African Americans have left a rich and bitter legacy from the period. Students who encounter Richard Wright’s narrative of his childhood in Black Boy, read Ida B. Wells’s description of a lynching in The Red Record, or sing aloud Big Bill Broonzy’s “If You’re Black, Get Back!” cannot but understand the plight of a people envisioning only a narrowing of their options. No book can convey the depths of the black experience without including material from the oppressed group. Yet not one textbook lets African Americans speak for them- selves about the conditions they faced.
It is also crucial that students realize that the discrimination confronting African Americans during the nadir (and afterward) was national, not just Southern. Only The American Adventure points this out. Therefore most of my first-year college students have no idea that in many locales until after World War II, and continuing even today in some suburbs, the North too was segre- gated: 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.
Even The American Adventure forgets its own coverage of the nadir and elsewhere offers this simplistic view of the period: “The years 1880-1910 seemed full of contradictions. . . . During Reconstruction many people tried hard to help the black people in the South. Then, for years, most white Ameri- cans paid little attention to the blacks. Little by little, however, there grew a new concern for them,” The trouble is, many white high school graduates share this world-view. Even if white concern for blacks has been only sporadic, they would argue, why haven’t African Americans shaped up in the hundred-plus years since Reconstruction ended? After all, immigrant groups didn’t have everything handed to them on a platter, either.
“GONE WITH THE WIND” -161
It is true that some immigrant groups faced harsh discrimination, from the No 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 still shut out lews and Catholics. 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 Der- bies, deliver mail, and even buy houses in white neighborhoods. Their problem was not black failure or white indifference—it was white racism.
Although formal racial discrimination grows increasingly rare, as young Americans grow up, they cannot avoid coming up against (he rift of race rela- tions. They will encounter predominantly black athletic teams cheered by pre- dominantly white cheerleaders on television, self-segregated dining rooms on college campuses, and arguments about affirmative action in the workplace. More than any other social variable (except sex!), race will determine whom they marry. Most of their friendship networks will remain segregated by race, and most churches, lodges, and other social organizations will be overwhelm- ingly either black or nonblack. The ethnic incidents and race riots of tomorrow will provoke still mote agonizing debate.
Since the nadir, the climate of race relations has improved, owing espe- cially to the civil rights movement. But massive racial disparities remain, inequalities that can only be briefly summarized here. In 1990 African American median family income averaged only 57 percent of white family income; Native Americans and Hispanics averaged about 65 percent as much as whites. Money can be used to buy many things in our society, from higher SAT scores to the ability to swim, and African American, Hispanic, and Native American families lag in their access to all those things. Ultimately, money buys life itself, in the form of better nutrition and health care and freedom from danger and stress. It should therefore come as no surprise that in 1990 African Americans and Native Americans had median life expectancies at birth that were six years shorter than whites’.
On average, African Americans have worse housing, lower scores on IQ_ tests, and higher percentages of young men in jail. The sneaking suspicion that African Americans might be inferior goes unchallenged in the hearts of many blacks and whites. It is all too easy to blame the victim and. conclude that people of color are themselves responsible for being on the bottom. Without causal his- torical analysis, these racial disparities are impossible to explain.
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When textbooks make racism invisible in American history, they obstruct our already poor ability to see it in the present. The closest they come to analysis is to present a vague feeling of optimism: in race relations, as in every- thing, 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 his- tory 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 his- tory—it is just ethnocentric cheerleading.
High school students “have a gloomy view of the state of race relations in America today,” according to a recent nationwide poll. Students of all racial backgrounds brood about the subject.8*’ 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.”87 Too young to have experi- enced 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 ptesent 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 nineteenth century neither they nor the students who use them will be able to analyze racism intelligently in the present.
‘ G O N E W I T H T H E W I N D ” – 1 6 3
It is not only radical or currently unfashionable ideas that the texts leave out—it is all ideas, including those of their heroes.
You may dispose of me very easily. I am nearly disposed of now. But this question is still to be settled—this Negro question, I mean; the end of that is not yet.
—John Brown, 18S92
I am here to plead his cause with you. I plead not for his life, but for his char- acter—his immortal life; and so it becomes your cause wholly, and is not his in the least.
—Henry David Thoreau, “A Plea for Captain John Brown,” 18593
We shall need all the anti-slavery feeling in the country, and more; you can go home and try to bring the people to your views, and you may say anything you like about me, if that will help. . . . When the hour comes for dealing with slavery, I trust I will be willing to do my duty though it cost my life.
—Abraham Lincoln to abolitionist Unitarian ministers, 18624
6. John Brown and Abraham Lincoln: The Invisibility of Antiracism in American History Textbooks
Perhaps the most telling criticism Frances FitzGerald made in her 1979survey of American history textbooks, America Revised, was that they leave out ideas. As presented by textbooks of the 1970s, “American political life was completely mindless,” she observed.5
Why would textbook authors avoid even those ideas with which they agree? Taking ideas seriously does not fit with the rhetorical style of textbooks, which presents events so as to make them seem foreordained along a line of constant progress. Including ideas would make history contingent: things could go either way, and have on occasion. The “right” people, armed with the “right” ideas, have not always won. When they didn’t, the authors would be in the embarrassing position of having to disapprove of an outcome in the past. Including ideas would introduce uncertainty. This is not textbook style. Text- books unfold history without real drama or suspense, only melodrama.
On the subject of race relations, John Brown’s statement that “this ques- tion is still to be settled” seems as relevant today, and even as ominous, as when he spoke in 1859. The opposite of racism is antiracism, of course, or what we might call racial idealism or equalitarianism, and it is still not clear whether it will prevail. In this struggle, our history textbooks offer little help. Just as they underplay white racism, they also neglect racial idealism. In so doing, they deprive students of potential role models to call upon as they try to bridge the new fault lines that will spread out in the future from the great rift in our past.
Since ideas and ideologies played an especially important role in the Civil War era, American history textbooks give a singularly inchoate view of that Struggle, Just as textbooks treat slavery without racism, they treat abolitionism without much idealism.<• Consider the most radical white abolitionist of them all, John Brown.
The treatment of Brown, like the treatment of slavery and Reconstruction, has changed in American history textbooks. From 1890 to about 1970, John Brown was insane. Before 1890 he was perfectly sane, and after 1970 he
regained his sanity. Since Brown himself did not change after his death, his sanity provides an inadvertent index of the level of white racism in our society.
In today’s textbooks, Brown makes two appearances: Pottawatomie, Kansas, and Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Recall that the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act tried to resolve the question of slavery through “popular sovereignty.” The prac- tical result of leaving the slavery decision to whoever settled in Kansas was an ideologically motivated settlement craze. Northerners rushed to live and farm in Kansas Territory and make it “free soil.” Fewer Southern planters moved to Kansas with their slaves, but slaveowners from Missouri repeatedly crossed the Missouri River to vote in territorial elections and to establish a reign of terror to drive out the free-soil farmers. In May 1856 hundreds of proslavery “border ruf- fians,” as they came to be called, raided the free-soil town of Lawrence, Kansas, burning down the hotel and destroying two printing presses. The American Tra- dition describes Brown’s action at Pottawatomie: “In retaliation, a militant aboli- tionist named John Brown led a midnight attack on the proslavery settlement of Pottawatomie. Five people were killed by Brown and his followers.”
Discovering American History describes Brown’s 1859 Harpers Ferry raid:
)ohn Brown, son of an abolitionist, envisioned a plan to invade the South and free the slaves. In 1859, with financial support from aboli- tionists, Brown made plans to start a slave rebellion in Virginia, to establish a free state in the Appalachian Mountains, and to spread the rebellion through the South. On October 16, 1859, Brown and eigh- teen of his men captured the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, in the present state of West Virginia. . . . He and his men were captured by a force of marines. Brown was brought to trial and convicted of treason& against Virginia, murder, and criminal conspiracy. He was hanged on December 2, 1859.
In all, seven of the twelve textbooks take this neutral approach to John Brown.7
Their bland paragraphs don’t imply that Brown was crazy, but neither do they tell enough about him to explain why he became a hero to so many blacks and nonslaveholding whites.
Three textbooks still linger in a former era. “John Brown was almost cer- tainly insane,” opines American History. The American Way tells a whopper: “[L]ater Brown was proved to be mentally ill.” The American Pageant characterizes Brown as “deranged,” “gaunt,” “grim,” “terrible,” and “crackbrained,” “probably of unsound mind,” and says that “thirteen of his near relatives were regarded as
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insane, including his mother and grandmother.” Two other books finesse the sanity issue by calling Brown merely “fanatical.” No textbook has any sympathy for the man or takes any pleasure in his ideals and actions.
For the benefit of readers who, like me, grew up reading that Brown was at least fanatic if not crazed, let’s consider the evidence. To be sure, some of Brown’s lawyers and relatives, hoping to save his neck, suggested an insanity defense. But no one who knew Brown thought him crazy. He favorably impressed people who spoke with him after his capture, including his jailer and even reporters writing for Democratic newspapers, which supported slavery. Governor Wise of Virginia called him “a man of clear head” after Brown got the better of him in an informal interview. “They are themselves mistaken who take him to be a madman,” Governor Wise said. In his message to the Virginia legis- lature he said Brown showed “quick and clear perception,” “rational premises and consecutive reasoning,” “composure and self-possession.”8
After 1890 textbook authors inferred Brown’s madness from his plan, which admittedly was farfetched. Never mind that John Brown himself pre- sciently told Frederick Douglass that the venture would make a stunning impact even if it failed. Nor that his twenty-odd followers can hardly all be considered crazed too.” Rather, we must recognize that the insanity with which historians have charged John Brown was never psychological. It was ideological. Brown’s actions made no sense to textbook writers between 1890 and about 1970, To make no sense is to be crazy.
Clearly, Brown’s contemporaries did not consider him insane. Brown’s ideological influence in the month before his hanging, and continuing after his death, was immense. He moved the boundary of acceptable thoughts and deeds regarding slavery. Before Harpers Ferry, to be an abolitionist was not quite acceptable, even in the North. Just talking about freeing slaves—advocating immediate emancipation—was behavior at the outer limit of the ideological continuum. By engaging in armed action, including murder, John Brown made mere verbal abolitionism seem much less radical.
After an initial shock wave of revulsion against Brown, in the North as well as in the South, Americans were fascinated to hear what he had to say. In his 1859 trial John Brown captured the attention of the nation like no other abolitionist or slaveowner before or since. He knew it: “My whole life before had not afforded me one half the opportunity to plead for the right.”10 In his speech to the court on November 2, just before the judge sentenced him to die, Brown argued, “Had 1 so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, it would have been all right.” He referred to the Bible, which he saw in the
J O H N B R O W N A N D A B R A H A M L I N C O L N . j6j
courtroom, “which teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me further, to remember them that are in bonds as bound with them. 1 endeavored to act up to that instruction.” Brown went on to claim the high moral ground: “I believe that to have interfered as I have done, as I have always freely admitted I have done, in behalf of His despised poor, I did no wrong but right.” Although he objected that his impending death penalty was unjust, he accepted it and pointed to graver injustices: “Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should for- feit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood fur- ther with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say, let it be done.”11
Brown’s willingness to go to the gallows for what he thought was right had a moral force of its own. “It seems as if no man had ever died in America before, for in order to die you must first have lived,” Henry David Thoreau observed in a eulogy in Boston. “These men, in teaching us how to die, have at the same time taught us how to live.” Thoreau went on to compare Brown with Jesus of Nazareth, who had faced a similar death at the hands of the state.12
During the rest of November, Brown provided the nation graceful instruc- tion in how to face death. In Larchmont, New York, George Templeton Strong wrote in his diary, “One’s faith in anything is terribly shaken by anybody who is ready to go to the gallows condemning and denouncing it.”13 Brown’s letters to his family and friends softened his image, showed his human side, and prompted an outpouring of sympathy for his children and soon-to-be widow, if not for Brown himself. His letters to supporters and remarks to journalists, widely circulated, formed a continuing indictment of slavery. We see his charisma in this letter from “a conservative Christian”—so the author signed it—written to Brown in jail: “While I cannot approve of all your acts, J stand in awe of your position since your capture, and dare not oppose you lest 1 be found fighting against God; for you speak as one having authority, and seem to be strengthened from on high.”14 When Virginia executed John Brown on December 2, making him the first American since the founding of the nation to be hanged as a traitor, church bells mourned in cities throughout the North. Louisa May Alcott, William Dean Howells, Herman Melville, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Walt Whitman were among the poets who responded to the event. “The gaze of Europe is fixed at this moment on America,” wrote Victor Hugo from France. Hanging Brown, Hugo predicted, “will open a latent fissure that will finally split the Union asunder. The punishment of John Brown may consol-
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idate slavery in Virginia, but it will certainly shatter the American Democracy. You preserve your shame but you kill your glory.”15
Brown remained controversial after his death. Republican congressmen kept their distance from his felonious acts. Nevertheless, Southern slaveowners were appalled at the show of Northern sympathy for Brown and resolved to maintain slavery by any means necessary, including quitting the Union if they lost the next election. Brown’s charisma in the North, meanwhile, was not spent but only increased due to what many came to view as his martyrdom. As the war came, as thousands of Americans found themselves making the same com- mitment to face death that John Brown had made, the force of his example took on new relevance. That’s why soldiers marched into battle singing “John Brown’s Body.” Two years later, church congregations sang Julia Ward Howe’s new words to the song: “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free”—and the identification of John Brown and Jesus Christ took another turn. The next year saw the 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment parading through Boston to the tune, en route to its heroic destiny with death in South Carolina, while William Lloyd Garrison surveyed the cheering bystanders from a balcony, his hand resting on a bust of John Brown. In February 1865 another Massachu- setts colored regiment marched to the tune through the streets of” Charleston, South Carolina.16
That was the high point of old John Brown. At the turn of the century, as southern and border states disfranchised African Americans, as lynchings prolif- erated, as blackface minstrel shows came to dominate American popular culture, white America abandoned the last shards of its racial idealism. A history pub- lished in 1923 makes plain the connection to Brown’s insanity: “The farther we get away from the excitement of 1859 the more we are disposed to consider this extraordinary man the victim of mental delusions.”‘7 Not until the civil rights movement of the 1960s was white America freed from enough of its racism to accept that a white person did not have to be crazy to die for black equality. In a sense, the murders of Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman in Mississippi, James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo in Alabama, and various other white civil rights workers in various other southern states during the 1960s liberated textbook writers to see sanity again in John Brown. Rise of the American Nation, written in 1961, calls the Harpers Ferry plan “a wild idea, certain to fail,” while in Triumph of the American Nation, published in 1986, the plan becomes “a bold idea, but almost certain to fail.”
Frequently in American history the ideological needs of white racists and black nationalists coincide. So it was with their views of John Brown, During
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the heyday of the Black Power movement, I listened to speaker after speaker in a Mississippi forum denounce whites. “They are your enemies,” thundered one black militant. “Not one white person has ever had the best interests of black people at heart.” John Brown sprang to my mind, but the speaker anticipated my objection: “You might say John Brown did, but remember, he was crazy.” John Brown might provide a defense against such global attacks on whites, but, unfortunately, American history textbooks have erased him as a usable character.
No black person who met John Brown thought him crazy. Many black leaders of the day—-Martin Delaney, Henry Highland Garnet, Frederick Dou- glass, Harriet Tubman, and others—knew and respected Brown. Only illness kept Tubman from joining him at Harpers Ferry, The day of his execution black-owned businesses closed in mourning across the North. Frederick Dou- glass called Brown “one of the greatest heroes known to American fame.”‘8 A black college deliberately chose to locate at Harpers Ferry, and in 1918 its alumni dedicated a memorial stone to Brown and his men “to commemorate their heroism.” The stone stated, in part, “That this nation might have a new birth of freedom, that slavery should be removed forever from American soil, John Brown and his 21 men gave their lives.”
Quite possibly textbooks should not portray this murderer as a hero, although other murderers, from Christopher Columbus to Nat Turner, get the heroic treatment. However, the flat prose that textbooks use for Brown is not really neutral. Textbook authors’ withdrawal of sympathy from Brown is per- ceptible; their tone in presenting him is different from the tone they employ for almost everyone else. We see this, for instance, in their treatment of his religious beliefs. John Brown was a serious Christian, well read in the Bible, who took its moral commands to heart. Yet our textbooks do not credit Brown with religiosity—subtly they blame him for it. “Believing himself com- manded by God to free the slaves, Brown came up with a scheme . . . ,” in the words of Ldnd of Promise. The American Pageant calls Brown “narrowly igno- rant,” perhaps a euphemism for overly religious, and “God’s angry man.” “He believed that God had commanded him to free the slaves by force,” states American History. God never commanded Brown in the sense of giving him instructions; rather, Brown thought deeply about the moral meaning of Chris- tianity and decided that slavery was incompatible with it. He was also not “narrowly ignorant,” having traveled widely in the United States, England, and Europe and talked with many American intellectuals of the day, black and white.
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By way of comparison, consider Nat Turner, who in 1831 Jed the most important slave revolt since the United States became a nation. John Brown and Nat Turner both killed whites in cold blood. Both were religious, but, unlike Brown, Turner saw visions and heard voices. In most textbooks, Turner has become something of a hero. Several textbooks call Turner “deeply reli- gious.” None calls him “a religious fanatic.” They reserve that term for Brown. The closest any textbook comes to suggesting that Turner might have been crazy is this passage from American History: “Historians still argue about whether or not Turner was insane.” But the author immediately goes on to qualify, “The point is that nearly every slave hated bondage. Nearly all were eager to see something done to destroy the system.” Thus even American History emphasizes the political and social meaning of Turner’s act, not its psycholog- ical genesis in an allegedly questionable mind.
The textbooks’ withdrawal of sympathy from Brown is also apparent in what they include and exclude about his life before Harpers Ferry. “In the 1840’s he somehow got interested in helping black slaves,” according to Amer- ican Adventures. Brown’s interest is no mystery: he learned it from his father, who was a trustee of Oberlin College, a center of abolitionist sentiment, if Adventures wanted, it could have related the well-known story about how young John made friends with a black boy during the War of 1812, which convinced him that blacks were not inferior. Instead, its sentence reads like a slur. Textbook authors make Brown’s Pottawatomie killings seem equally unmotivated by neglecting to tell that the violence in Kansas had hitherto been perpetrated pri- marily by the proslavery side. Indeed, slavery sympathizers had previously killed six free-soil settlers. Several years before Pottawatomie, at Osawatomie, Kansas, Brown had helped thirty-five free-soil men defend themselves against several hundred marauding proslavery men from Missouri, thereby earning the nick- name “Osawatomie John Brown.” Not one textbook mentions what Brown did at Osawatomie, where he was the defender, but eight of the twelve tell what he did at Pottawatomie, where he was the attacker.'”
Our textbooks also handicap Brown by not letting him speak for him- self. Even his jailer let Brown put pen to paper! American History includes three important sentences; American Adventures gives us almost two. The American Pageant reprints three sentences from a letter Brown wrote his brother. The other nine books do not provide even a phrase. Brown’s words, which moved a nation, therefore do not move students today.
Textbook authors have an additional reason to avoid Brown’s ideas: they are tinged with Christianity. Religion has been one of the great inspirations and
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explanations of human enterprise in this country. Yet textbooks, while they may mention religious organizations such as the Shakers or Christian Science, never treat religious ideas in any period seriously.20 An in-depth portrayal of Mor- monism, Christian Science, or the Methodism of the Great Awakening would be controversial. Mentioning atheism or Deism would be even worse. “Are you going to tell kids that Thomas Jefferson didn’t believe in Jesus? Not me!” a text- book editor exclaimed to me. Treating religious ideas neutrally, nonreligiously, simply as factors in society, won’t do either, for that would likely offend some adherents. The textbooks’ solution is to leave out religious ideas entirely.21
Quoting John Brown’s courtroom words—”whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them”—would violate the taboo.
Ideological contradiction is terribly important in history. Ideas have power. The ideas that motivated John Brown and the example he set lived on long after his body lay a-moldering in the grave. Yet American history text- books give us no way to understand the role of ideas in our past.
Conceivably, textbook authors ignore John Brown’s ideas because in their eyes his violent acts make him ineligible for sympathetic consideration. When we turn from Brown to Abraham Lincoln, we shift from one of the most contro- versial to one of the most venerated figures in American history. Textbooks describe Abraham Lincoln with sympathy, of course. Nonetheless they also min- imize his ideas, especially on the subject of race. In life Abraham Lincoln wres- tled with the race question more openly than any other president except perhaps Thomas Jefferson, and, unlike Jefferson, Lincoln’s actions sometimes matched his words. Most of our textbooks say nothing about Lincoln’s internal debate. If they did show it, what teaching devices they would become! Students would see that speakers modify their ideas to appease and appeal to different audiences, so we cannot simply take their statements literally. If textbooks rec- ognized Lincoln’s racism, students would learn that racism not only affects Ku Klux Klan extremists but has been “normal” throughout our history. And as they watched Lincoln struggle with himself to apply America’s democratic principles across the color line, students would see how ideas can develop and a person can grow.
In conversation, Lincoln, like most whites of his century, referred to blacks as “niggers.” When responding 10 Stephen Douglas’s race-baiting in the Lin coin-Douglas debates, Lincoln himself sometimes descended into explicit white supremacy: “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which in my judgment will probably forever forbid their living together
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upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I as well as Judge Douglas am in favor of the race to which I belong, having the superior position,”” Only one textbook quotes [his passage; the rest censor Lincoln’s racist ideas, as they censored Douglas’s.;J
Lincoln’s attitudes about race were more complicated than Douglas’s, however. The day after Douglas declared for white supremacy in Chicago, saying the issues were “distinctly drawn,” Lincoln replied and indeed drew the issue distinctly: “I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Indepen- dence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle, and making excep- tions to it—where will it stop? If one man says it does not mean a Negro, why does not another say it does not mean some other man? If that Declaration is not . . . true, let us tear it out! [Cries of “no, nol”] Let us stick to it then, let us stand firmly by it then.”24 No textbook quotes this passage, and every book but one leaves out Lincoln’s thundering summation of what his debates with Dou- glas were really about: “That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world,”25
Lincoln’s realization of the basic humanity of African Americans may have derived from his father, who moved the family to Indiana partly because he dis- liked the racial slavery that was sanctioned in Kentucky, Or it may stem from an experience Lincoln had on a steamboat trip in 1841, which he recalled years later when writing to his friend Josh Speed: “You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio there were on board ten or twelve slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was continual torment to me, and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave- border.” Lincoln concluded that the memory still had “the power of making me miserable.”26 No textbook quotes this letter.
As early as 1835, in his first term in the Illinois House of Representatives, Lincoln cast one of only five votes opposing a resolution that condemned aboli- tionists. Textbooks imply that Lincoln was nominated for president in I860 because he was a moderate on slavery, but, in fact, Republicans chose Lincoln over front-runner William H. Seward partly because of Lincoln’s “rock-solid antislavery beliefs,” while Seward was considered a compromiser.”
As president, Lincoln understood the importance of symbolic leadership in improving race relations. For the first time the United States exchanged ambassadors with Haiti and Liberia. In 1863 Lincoln desegregated the White House staff, which initiated a desegregation of” the federal government that
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lasted until Woodrow Wilson. Lincoln opened the White House to black callers, notably Frederick Douglass, He also tontinued to wrestle with his own racism,
\ asking aides to investigate the feasibility of deporting (euphemistically termed “colonizing”) African Americans to Africa or Latin America,
Six of the twelve textbooks mention that Lincoln opposed slavery. Two even quote his 1864 letter; “If slavery isn’t wrong, then nothing is wrong.”28
However, most textbook authors take pains to separate Lincoln from undue idealism about slavery. They venerate Lincoln mainly because he “saved the Union,” By far their favorite statement of Lincoln’s, quoted or paraphrased by nine of the twelve books, is his letter of August 22, 1862, to Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune;
If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, 1 would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, 1 would do it; and if 1 could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, 1 would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race I do because I believe it helps to save this Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because 1 do not believe it would help to save the Union. . . . 1 have here stated tny pur- pose according to my view of official duty, and I intend no modifica- tion of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men, everywhere could be free.
Most textbooks don’t let students see all of the above quotation; seven of the nine leave out the last sentence,29 Thus they present a Lincoln who was morally indifferent to slavery and certainly did not care about black people. Ironically, this is also the Lincoln whom black nationalists present to African Americans to persuade them to stop thinking well of him.’0
Every historian knows that the fragment of Lincoln’s letter to Greeley that most textbooks supply does not represent his intent regarding slavery. Lincoln wrote the letter to seek support for the war from Northern supporters of slavery. He aimed it not at Greeley, who wanted slavery to end, but at antiwar Democ- rats, antiblack Irish Americans, governors of the border states, and the many Republicans who opposed emancipating the slaves. Saving the Union had never been Lincoln’s sole concern, as shown by his 1860 rejection of the eleventh- hour Crittenden Compromise, a constitutional amendment intended to preserve the Union by preserving slavery forever.” Every textbook writer knows that a month before Lincoln wrote to Greeley, he had presented the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet as an irreversible decision, but no textbook makes
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this clear. Not one explains the political context or the intended audience for the Greeley letter. Nor does a single textbook quote Lincoln’s encouragement that same summer to Unitarian ministers to “go home and try to bring the people to your views,” because “we shall need all the anti-slavery feeling in the country, and more.” If they did, students might understand that indifference was not Lincoln’s only response to the issue of slavery in America.
When textbook’s discuss the Emancipation Proclamation, they explain Lincoln’s actions in realpolitik terras. “By September 1862,” says Triumph of the American Nation, “Lincoln had reluctantly decided that a war fought at least partly to free the slaves would win European support and lessen the danger of foreign intervention on the side of the Confederacy.” Triumph has forgotten its own earlier judgment: “President Lincoln had long believed slavery to be wrong.” For if Lincoln opposed slavery, why would he emancipate “reluctantly” and merely for reasons related to international politics?
To be sure, international and domestic political concerns did impinge on Abraham Lincoln, master politician that he was. But so did considerations of right and wrong. Political analysts then and now believe that Lincoln’s Sep- tember 1862 announcement of emancipation cost Republicans the control of Congress the following November, because Northern white public opinion would not evolve to favor black freedom for another year.32 Textbook authors suppress the possibility that Lincoln acted at least in part because he thought it was right. From Indian wars to slavery to Vietnam, textbook authors not only sidestep putting questions of right and wrong to our past actions but even avoid acknowledging that Americans of the time did so.
Abraham Lincoln was one of the great masters of the English language. Perhaps more than any other president he invoked and manipulated powerful symbols in his speeches to move public opinion, often on the subject of race relations and slavery. Textbooks, in keeping with their habit of telling every- thing in the authorial monotone, dribble out Lincoln’s words three and four at a time. The only complete speech or letter any of them provide is the Gettysburg Address, and only four of the twelve textbooks dispense even that. Lincoln’s three paragraphs at Gettysburg comprise one of the most important speeches ever given in America and take up only a fourth of a page in the textbooks that include them. Nonetheless five books do not even mention the speech, while three others provide only the last sentence or phrase from it: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Lincoln understood that fighting a war for freedom was ideologically more satisfying than fighting simply to preserve a morally neutral Union. To
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save the Union, it was necessary to find rationales for the war other than “to save the Union.” At Gettysburg he provided one.
Lincoln was a fine lawyer who knew full well that the United States was conceived in slavery, for the Constitution specifically treats slavery in at least three places. Nevertheless he began, “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedi- cated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Thus Lincoln wrapped the Union cause in the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence, which emphasized freedom even while many of its signers were slaveowners.35 In so doing, Lincoln was at the same time using the Declaration to redefine the Union cause, suggesting that it ultimately implied equal rights for all Americans, regardless of race.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war,” Lincoln continued, “testing whether that nation or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” Again, Lincoln knew better: by 1863 other nations had joined us in democracy. For that matter, every European nation and most American nations had outlawed slavery. How did our civil war test whether they could endure? Here Lincoln was wrapping the Union cause in the old “last best hope of mankind” cloak, a secular version of the idea of a special covenant between the United States and God.i4 Although bad history, such rhetoric makes for great speeches. The president thus appealed to the antiwar Democrats of the North to support the war effort for the good of all mankind.
After invoking a third powerful symbol—-“the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here”—-Lincoln closed by identifying the cause for which so many had died: “that this nation, under Cod, shall have a new birth of freedom.” To what freedom did he refer? Black freedom, of course. As Lincoln well knew, the war itself was undermining slavery, for what began as a war to save the Union increasingly had become a war for black freedom. Citizens at the time understood Lincoln perfectly. Indeed, throughout this period Americans purchased copies of political speeches, read them, discussed issues, and voted at rates that now seem impossibly high. The Chicago Times, a Democratic news- paper, denounced the address precisely because of “the proposition that all men are created equal.” The Union dead, claimed the Times, “were men possessing too much self-respect to declare that Negroes were their equals, or were entitled to equal privileges.”‘5
Textbooks need not explain Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg as I have done. The Gettysburg Address is rich enough to survive various analyses.5” But of the four books that do reprint the speech, three merely put it in a box by itself in a
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corner of the page. Only Li/e andLiberty asks intelligent questions about it.57 As a result, I have yet to meet a high school graduate who has devoted any time to thinking about the Gettysburg Address,
Even worse is textbook treatment of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. In this towering speech, one of the masterpieces of American oratory, Lincoln specifi- cally identified differences over slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War, then in its fourth bloody year.)B “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him?” Lincoln continued in this vein by invoking the doctrine of predestination, a more vital element of the nation’s idea system then than now: “Fondly do we hope-—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'” This last is an astonishing sentence. Its length alone astounds. Politicians don’t talk like that nowadays. When students read this passage aloud, slowly and deliberately, they do not fail to perceive it as a searing indictment of America’s sins against black people. The Civil War was by far the most devastating experience in our nation’s history Yet we had it coming, Lincoln says here. And in his rhetorical context, sin or crime, not mere tragedy, is the fitting and proper term. Indeed, this indictment of U.S. race relations echoes John Brown’s last note: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with Blood.””
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural made such an impact on Americans that when the president was shot, a month later, farmers in New York and Ohio greeted his funeral train with placards bearing its phrases. But only The United Slates-—A History of the Republic includes any of the material quoted above. Five other text- books restrict their quotation to the speech’s final phrase, about binding up the nation’s wounds “with malice toward none,” The other six textbooks ignore the speech altogether.
Like Helen Keller’s concern about the injustice of social class, Lincoln’s concern about the crime of racism may appear unseemly to textbook authors.
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The strange career of the log cabin in which Abraham Lincoln was born symbolizes in a way what textbooks nave done to Lincoln. The actual cabin fell into disrepair probably before Lincoln became president. According to research by D. T. Pitcaithley, tbe new cabin, a hoax built in 1894, was leased to two amusement park owners, went to Coney Island, where it got commingled with the birthplace cabin of Jefferson Davis (another hoax], and was finally shrunk to fit inside a marble pantheon in Kentucky, where, reassembled, it still stands. The cabin also became a children’s toy; Lincoln Logs, invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son John in 1920, came with instructions on how to build both Lincoln’s log cabin and Uncle Tom’s cabinl The cabin still makes its arche- typal appearance in our textbooks, signifying the rags to riches legend of Abraham Lin- coln’s upward mobility. No wonder one college student could only say of him, in a much-repeated biooper, “He was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands.”
Must we remember Lincoln for ibat? Let’s leave it out! Such an approach to Lin- coln might be called the Walt Disney interpretation: Disney’s exhibit at the 1964 New York World’s Fair featured an animated sculpture of Lincoln that spoke for several minutes, choosing “his” words carefully to say nothing about slavery.
Having disconnected Abraham Lincoln from considerations of right and wrong, several textbooks present the Civil War the same way. In reality, United States soldiers, who began righting to save the Union and not much more, ended by righting for all the vague but portentous ideas in the Gettysburg Address, From 1862 on, Union armies sang “Battle Cry of Freedom,” composed by George Root in the summer of that year:
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We will we/come to our numbers the loyal true and brave,
Shooting the battle cry of freedom.
And although he may be poor, no! a man shall be a slave.
Shouting she battle cry of freedom.'”1
Surely no one can sing these lines even today without perceiving that both freedom and the preservation of the Union were war aims of the United States and without feeling some of the power of that potent combination. This power is what textbooks omit: they give students no inkling that ideas matter.
The actions of African Americans played a big role in challenging white racism. Slaves fled to Union lines. After they were allowed to fight, the contribu- tions of black troops to the war effort made it harder for whites to deny that blacks were fully human.1″ A Union captain wrote to his wife, “A great many [whites] have the idea that the entire Negro race are vastly their inferiors—a few weeks of calm unprejudiced life here would disabuse them, I think—I have a more elevated opinion of their abilities than I ever had before.”42 Unlike histo- rians of a few decades ago, today’s textbook authors realize that trying to pre- sent the war without the actions of African Americans makes for bad history. All twelve current textbooks at least mention that more than 180,000 blacks fought
Triumpli of the American Nation includes this evocative photograph of the crew of the USS Hunchback in the Civil War. Such racial integration disappeared during the nadir of race relations in the United States, from 1890 to 1920.
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in the Union army and navy. Several of the textbooks include an illustration of African American soldiers and describe the unequal pay they received until late in the war.4′ Discovering American History mentions that Union soldiers trapped behind Confederate lines found slaves to be “of invaluable assistance.” Only The United Stales—A History of the Republic, however, takes the next step by pointing out how the existence and success of black troops decreased white racism.
The antiracist repercussions of the Civil War were particularly apparent in the border states. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation applied only to the Con- federacy. It left slavery untouched in Unionist Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. But the war did not. The status of planters became ambiguous: owning black people was no longer what a young white man aspired to do or what a young white woman aspired to accomplish by marriage. Maryland was a slave state with considerable support for the Confederacy at the onset of the war. But Maryland held for the Union and sent thousands of soldiers to defend Washington. What happened next provides a “positive” example of the effects of cognitive dissonance: for Maryland whites to fight a war against slaveowners while allowing slavery within their own state created a tension that demanded resolution. In 1864 the increasingly persuasive abolitionists in Maryland brought the issue to a vote. The tally went narrowly against emancipation until the large number of absentee ballots were counted. By an enormous margin, these ballots were for freedom. Who cast most absentee ballots in 1864 in Maryland? Soldiers and sailors, of course. Just as these soldiers marched into battle with “John Brown’s Body” upon their lips, so their minds had changed to favor the freedom that their actions were forging.44
As noted in the previous chapter, songs such as “Nigger Doodle Dandy” reflect the racist tone of the Democrats’ presidential campaign in 1864. How did Republicans counter? In part, they sought white votes by being antiracist. The Republican campaign, boosted by military victories in the fall of ] 864, proved effective. The Democrats’ overt appeals to racism failed, and antiracist Republi- cans triumphed almost everywhere. One New York Republican wrote, “The change of opinion on this slavery question . . . is a great and historic fact. Who could have predicted . . , this great and blessed revolution?”45 People around the
OPPOSITE: This is the October 15, 1864, centerfold of Harper’s magazine, which throughout the nineteenth century was the mouthpiece of the Republican party. The words are from the Democratic platform. The illustrations, by young Thomas Nast, show shortcomings in the Democratic plan. Ore could hardly imagine a political party today seeking white votes on the basis of such racial idealism.
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The Democratic platform began innocuously enough: “We will adhere with unswerving fidelity to the UNION under the CONSTITUTION as the ONLY solid foundation of our STRENGTH, SECURITY, and HAPPINESS as a PEOPLE,” But Mast’s illustration was a knockout: he shows siavecatchers and dogs pursuing hapless runaways into a swamp. He jolts the reader to exclaim. What aoout them? These are people too!
world supported the Union because of its ideology. Forty thousand Canadians alone, some of them black, came south to volunteer for the Union cause.40
Ideas made the opposite impact in the Confederacy. Ideological contra- dictions afflicted the slave system even before the war began, John Brown knew that masters secretly feared that their slaves might revolt, even as they assured abolitionists that slaves really liked slavery. One reason his Harpers Ferry raid prompted such an outcry in the South was that slaveowners feared their slaves might join him. Yet their condemnations of Brown and the “Black Republicans” who financed him did not persuade Northern moderates but only pushed them toward the abolitionist camp. After all, if Brown was truly dangerous, as slave- owners claimed, then slavery was truly unjust. Happy slaves would never revolt.
White Southerners founded the Confederacy on the ideology of white supremacy. According to Alexander Stephens, vice-president of the Confed- eracy: “Our new government’s foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man, that slavery—sub- ordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.” Confed- erate soldiers on their way to Antietam and Gettysburg, their two main forays
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Illustrating “PUBLIC LIBERTY and PRIVATE RIGHT,” Nast shows the New York City draft riot of 1863: white thugs are exercising their “right” to beat and kill African Americans, including a child held upside down.
into Union states, put this ideology into practice: they seized scores of free black people in Maryland and Pennsylvania and sent them south into slavery. Confed- erates maltreated black Union troops when they captured them.47 Throughout the war, “the protection of slavery had been and still remained the central core of Confederate purpose.”48 Textbooks downplay all this, probably because they do not want to offend white Southerners loday.
The safeguarding of states’ rights, often mentioned as a motive for the establishment of the Confederacy, was for the most part merely an accompanying rationale. Historically, whatever faction has been out of power in America has pushed for states’ rights. Slaveowners were delighted when Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney decided in 1857 that throughout the nation, irrespective of the wishes of state or territorial governments, blacks had no rights that whites must respect. Slaveowners pushed President Buchanan to use federal power to legit- imize slaveholding in Kansas the next year. Only after they lost control of the executive branch in the 1860 election did they advocate limiting federal power.40
As the war continued, neither states’ rights nor white supremacy proved adequate to the task of inspiring a new nation. As early as December 1862,
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Pres. Jefferson Davis denounced states’ rights as destructive to the Confederacy, The mountainous counties in western Virginia bolted to the Union. Confederate troops had to occupy east Tennessee to keep it from emulating West Virginia, Winn Parish, Louisiana, refused to secede from the Union. Winston County, Alabama, declared itself che Republic of Winston. Unionist farmers and woodsmen in Jones County, Mississippi, declared the Free State of Jones, Every Confederate state except South Carolina supplied a regiment or at least a com- pany of white soldiers to the Union army, as well as many black recruits. Armed guerrilla actions plagued every Confederate state. (With the exception of Mis- souri, and the 1863 New York City draft riots, few Union states were afflicted with such problems.) It became dangerous for Confederates to travel in parts of Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The war was fought not just between North and South but between Unionists and Confederates within the Confederacy (and Missouri).50 By February 1864 President Davis despaired: “Public meetings of treasonable character, in the name of state sover- eignty, are being held.” Thus stales’ rights as an ideology was contradictory and could not mobilize the white South for the long haul.
The racial ideas of the Confederate states proved even less serviceable to the war effort. According to Confederate ideology, blacks liked slavery; never- theless, to avert revolts and runaways, the Confederate states passed the “twenty nigger law,” exempting from military conscription one white man as overseer for every twenty slaves. Throughout the war Confederates withheld as much as a third of their fighting forces from the front lines and scattered them throughout areas with large slave populations to prevent slave uprisings.^1 When the United States allowed African Americans to enlist, Confederates were forced by their ideology to assert that it would not work-—blacks would hardly fight like white men. The undeniable bravery of the 54th Massachusetts and other black regi- ments disproved the idea of black inferiority. Then came the incongruity of truly beastly behavior by Southern whites toward captured black soldiers, such as the infamous Fort Pillow massacre by troops under Nathan Bedford Forrest, who crucified black prisoners on tent frames and then burned them alive, all in the name of preserving white civilization.52
Contradiction piled upon contradiction. After the fall of Vicksburg, Presi- dent Davis proposed to arm slaves to fight for the Confederacy, promising them freedom to win their cooperation. But if servitude was the best condition for the slave, protested supporters of slavery, how could freedom be a reward? To win foreign recognition, other Confederate leaders proposed to abolish slavery alto- gether. Some newspaper editors concurred. “Although slavery is one of the prin-
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ciples that we started to fight for,” said the Jackson Mississippian, if it mim be jet- tisoned to achieve our “separate nationality, away with it!” A month before Appomattox, the Confederate Congress passed a measure to enroll black troops, showing how the war had elevated even slaveowners’ estimations of black abili- ties and also revealing complete ideological disarray. What, after all, would the new black soldiers be fighting far? Slavery? Secession? What, for that matter, would white Southern troops be fighting for, once blacks were also armed? As Howell Cobb of Georgia said, “If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”55
In part owing to these contradictions, some Confederate soldiers switched sides, beginning as early as 1862. When Sherman made his famous march to the sea from Atlanta to Savannah, his army actually grew in number, because thousands of white Southerners volunteered along the way. Meanwhile, almost two-thirds of the Confederate army opposing Sherman disappeared through desertion,54 Eighteen thousand slaves also joined Sherman, so many that the army had to turn some away. Compare these facts with the portrait common in our textbooks of Sherman’s marauders looting their way through a united South!
The increasing ideological confusion in the Confederate states, coupled with the increasing ideological strength of the United States, helps explain the Union victory. “Even with all the hardships,” Carleton Deals has noted, “the South up to the very end still had great resources and manpower.” Many nations and people have continued to fight with far inferior means and weapons. Beals thinks that the Confederacy’s ideological contradictions were its gravest liabili- ties, ultimately causing its defeat. He shows how the Confederate army was dis- banding by the spring of 1865 in Texas and other states, even in the absence of Union approaches. On the home front too, as Jefferson Davis put it, “The zeal of the people is failing.”55
Five textbooks tell how the issue of states’ rights interfered with the Con- federate cause,5* Only The American Adventure gives students a clue of any other ideological weakness of the Confederacy or strength of the Union. Adventure tells how slavery broke down when Union armies came near and that many poor whites in the South did not support the war because they felt they would be fighting for slaveowners. Ac/venterf also quotes original sources on the evolu- tion of Union war aims and asks, “How would such attitudes affect the conduct and outcome of the war?” No other textbook mentions ideas or ideologies as a strength or weakness of either side. The Civil War was about something, after all. Textbooks should tell us what.”
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This silence has a history. Throughout this century textbooks have pre- sented the Civil War as a struggle between “virtually identical peoples.” This is all part of the unspoken agreement, reached during the nadir of race relations in the United States (1890-1920), that whites in the South were as American as whites in the North.58 White Northerners and white Southerners reconciled on the backs of African Americans, while the abolitionists became the bad guys.
In the 1920s the Grand Army of the Republic, the organization of Union veterans, complained that American history textbooks presented the Civil War with “no suggestion” ihat the Union cause was right. Apparently the United Daughters of the Confederacy carried more weight with publishers,” The UDC was even able to erect a statue to the Confederate dead in Wisconsin, claiming they “died to repel unconstitutional invasion, to protect the rights reserved to the people, to perpetuate the sovereignty of the states”60 Not a word about slavery, or even disunion.
History textbooks still present Union and Confederate sympathizers as equally idealistic. The North fought to hold the Union together, while the Southern states fought, according to The American Way, “for the preservation of their rights and freedom to decide for themselves.” Nobody fought to preserve racial slavery; nobody fought to end it. As one result, unlike the Nazi swastika, which lies disgraced, even in the North whites still proudly display the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy on den walls, license plates, T-shirts, and high school logos. Even some (white) Northerners vaguely regret the defeat of the “lost cause.” It is as if racism against blacks could be remembered with nostalgia.61 In this sense, long after Appomattox, the Confederacy finally won.
Five days after Appomattox, President Lincoln was murdered. His mar- tyrdom pushed Union ideology one step further. Even whites who had opposed emancipation now joined to call Lincoln the great emancipator.62 Under Repub- lican leadership, the nation entered Reconstruction, a period of continuing ideo- logical conflict.
At first Confederates tried to maintain prewar conditions through new laws, modeled after their slave codes and antebellum restrictions on free blacks. Mississippi was the first state to pass these draconian “Black Codes.” They did not work, however. The Civil War had changed American ideology. The new antiracism forged in its flames would dominate Northern thinking for a decade. The Chicago Tribune, the most important organ of the Republican party in the Midwest, responded angrily: “We tell the white men of Mississippi that the men of the North will convert the state of Mississippi into a frog pond before they will allow any such laws to disgrace one foot of soil in which the bones of our
186 • LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME
soldiers sleep and over which the flag of freedom waves.”65 Thus black civil rights again became the central issue in the congressional elections of 1866. “Support Congress and You Support the Negro,” said the Democrats in a campaign broad- side featuring a disgusting caricature of an African American. “Sustain the Presi- dent and You Protect the White Man.”64 Northern voters did not buy it. They returned “radical” Republicans to Congress in a thunderous repudiation of Pres. Andrew Johnson’s accommodation of the ex-Confederates. Even more than in 1864, when Republicans swept Congress in 1866 antiracism became the policy of the nation, agreed to by most of its voters. Over Johnson’s veto, Congress and the slates passed the Fourteenth Amendment, making all persons citizens and guaranteeing them “the equal protection of the laws.” The passage, on behalf of blacks, of this shining jewel of our Constitution shows how idealistic were the officeholders of the Republican Party, particularly when we consider that similar legislation on behalf of women cannot be passed today.65
During Reconstruction a surprising variety of people went to the new civilian “front lines” and worked among the newly freed African Americans in the South. Many were black Northerners, including several graduates of Oberlin College, This passage from a letter by Edmonia Highgate, a white woman who went south to teach school, describes her life in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana.
The majority of my pupils come from plantations, three, four and even eight miles distant. So anxious are they to learn that they walk these distances so early in the morning as never to be tardy.
There has been much opposition to the School. Twice I have been shot at in my room. My night school scholars have been shot but none killed. A week ago an aged freedman just across the way was shot so badly as to break his arm and leg. The rebels here threatened to burn down the school and house in which I board yet they have not materi- ally harmed us. The nearest military protection is 200 miles distant at New Orleans.6*
Some Union soldiers stayed in the South when they were demobilized. Some Northern Republican would-be politicians moved south to organize their parry in a region where it had not been a factor before the war. Some went hoping to win office by election or appointment. Many abolitionists continued their commitment by working in the Freedman’s Bureau and priva[e organiza- tions to help blacks obtain full civil and political rights. In terms of party affilia- tion, almost all of these persons were Republicans; otherwise, they were a
J O H N B R O W N A N D A B R A H A M L I N C O L N • 187
The white woman at left, whom textbooks would call a “carpetbagger.” could hardlyj expect to grow rich teaching school hear Vicksbutg, where this illustration was done. | This woman risked her life to bring basic literacy to African American children and’j adu Its d u ri ng Reco nst ru ctio n.
diverse group. Still, all but one of the twelve textbooks routinely use the dis- graceful old tag carpeibaggers, without noting its bias, lo describe Northern white] Republicans who lived in the South during Reconstruction.”
Many whites who were born in the South supported Reconstruction.! Every Southern state boasted Unionists, some of whom had volunteered for ilic Union army. They now became Republicans. Some former Confederates,! including even Gen. James Longstreet, second in command under Lee at Gettys-. burg, became Republicans because they had grown convinced that equality for | blacks was morally right. Robert Flournoy, a Mississippi planter, had raised a
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company of Confederate soldiers but then resigned his commission and returned home because “there was a conflict in my conscience.” During the war he was once arrested for encouraging blacks to flee to Union lines. During Reconstruction he helped organize the Republican party, published a newspaper, Equd Rights, and argued for desegregating the University of Mississippi and the new state’s public school system.hs Republican policies, including free public education, never before available in the South to children of either race, con- vinced some poor whites to vote for the party Many former Whigs became Republicans rather than join their old nemesis, the Democrats. Some white Southerners became Republicans because they were convinced that black suf— frage was an accomplished fact; they preferred winning political power with blacks on their side to losing. Others became Republicans to make connections or win contracts from the new Republican state governments. Of the 113 white Republican congressmen from the South during Reconstruction, 53 were South- erners, many of them from wealthy families.69 In sum, this is another diverse group, amounting to between one-fourth and one-third of the white population and in some counties a majority. Nevertheless all but one textbook still routinely apply the disgraceful old tag scalawags to Southern white Republicans,70
Carpetbaggers and scalawags are terms coined by white Southern Democrats to defame their opponents as illegitimate. Reconstruction-era newspapers in Mississippi, at least, used Republicans far more often than aaperbaggffi or scdlawags. Carpeiba^er implies that the dregs of Northern society, carrying all their belongings in a carpetbag, had come down to make their fortunes off the “prostrate [white] south.” Scalawag means “scoundrel.” Employing these terms would be appropriate if textbook authors made clear that they were terms of the time and explained who used them and in what circumstances. But textbooks incorporate them as if they were proper historical labels, with no quotation marks, in preference to neutral terms such as Reconstruction Republicans.
Consider these sentences from The United States—A History of the Republic: “In Mississippi the carpetbaggers controlled politics. In Tennessee the scalawags did.” Or this from The American Tradition: “Despite southern white claims to the contrary, the Radical regimes were not dominated by blacks, but by scalawags and carpetbaggers.” In reality, “scalawags” were Southern whites, of course, but this sentence writes them out of the white South, just as die-hard Confederates were wont to do. Moreover, referring to perfectly legal governments as “regimes” is a way of delegitimizing them, a technique Tradition applies to no other administration, not even the 1836 Republic of Texas or the 1893 Dole pineapple takeover in Hawaii,
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To be sure, newer editions of American history textbooks no longer denounce Northerners who participated in Southern politics and society as “dis- honest adventurers whose only thought was to feather their own nests at the expense of their fellows,” as Rise of the American Nation put it in 1961. Again, the civil rights movement has allowed us to rethink our history. Having watched Northerners, black and white, go south to help blacks win civil rights in the 1960s, today’s textbook authors display more sympathy for Northerners who worked with Southern blacks during Reconstruction.71 Here is the paragraph on “carpetbaggers” from Rise’s successor, Triumph of the American Nation:
The carpetbaggers came for many different reasons. Some sincerely wanted to help the freed slaves exercise their newly acquired rights. Some hoped to get themselves elected to political office. Some came to make their fortunes by acquiring farmland or by starling new busi- nesses. However, some came for reasons of pure greed or fraud, Horace Greeley the editor of the New York Tribune, wrote that such carpetbag- gers were “stealing and plundering, many of them with both arms around the Negroes, and their hands in their rear pockets, seeing if they cannot pick a paltry dollar out of them.”
And here is the paragraph on “scalawags”:
Some of these native-born southerners had the best of motives. Having opposed slavery and secession, they had sympathized with the Union during the war. Now they believed that the best way to restore peace and prosperity to the South and to the nation was to forgive and forget. However, others were selfish and ambitious individuals who seized any opportunity to advance their own fortunes at the expense of their neighbors.
The new treatment is kinder. The authors are trying to be positive about white Republicans, even if they cannot resist ending each paragraph by invoking greed. Of course, textbook authors might use the notion of private gain to dis- parage every textbook hero from Christopher Columbus and the Pilgrims through George Washington to Jackie Robinson. They don’t, though. Text- books attribute selfish motives only to characters with whom they have little sympathy, such as the idealists in Reconstruction, The negatives then stick in the mind, cemented by the catchy pejoratives carpetbaggers and scalawags, while the
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qualifying phrases—”some sincerely wanted …”—are likely to be forgotten. No textbook introduces us to idealists such as Edmonia Highgate, facing down white violence, or Robert Flournoy, casting his lot with black Republicans because he believed in justice. Everyone who supported black rights in the South during Reconstruction did so at personal risk. At the beginning of Reconstruction, simply to walk to school to teach could be life-threaten ing. Toward the end of the era, there were communities in which simply to vote Republican was life-threatening. While some Reconstructionists undoubtedly achieved economic gain, it was a dangerous way to make a buck. Textbooks need to show the risk, and the racial idealism that prompted most of the people who took it,’2
Instead, textbooks deprive us of our racial idealists, from Highgate and Flournoy, whom they omit, through Brown, whom they make fanatic, to Lincoln, whose idealism they flatten. In the course of events, Lincoln would come to accomplish on a national scale what Brown tried to accomplish at Harpers Ferry: helping African Americans mobilize to fight slavery. Finally, like John Brown, Abraham Lincoln became a martyr and a hero. Seven million Americans, almost one-third of the entire Union population, stood to watch his funeral train pass,73
African Americans mourned with particular intensity. Gideon Welles, secretary of the navy, walked the streets of Washington at dawn an hour before the president breaihed his last and described the scene: “The colored people especially—and there were at this time more of them perhaps, than of whites—were over- whelmed with grief.” Welles went on to tell how all day long “on the avenue in from of the White House were several hundred black people, mostly women and children, weeping for their loss,” a crowd that “did not appear to diminish through the whole of that cold, wet day” In their grief African Americans were neither misguided nor childlike. When the hour came for dealing with slavery, as Lincoln had surmised, he had done his duty and it had cost his life.74 Abraham Lincoln, racism and all, was blacks’ legitimate hero, as earlier John Brown had been. In a sense, Brown and Lincoln were even killed for the same deed: arming black people for their own liberation. People around the world mourned the passing of both men,
Bui when I ask ray (white) college students on the first day of class who their heroes are in American history, only one or two in a hundred pick Lincoln,” Even those who choose Lincoln know only that he was “really great”—they don’t know why. Their ignorance makes sense-—after all, text- books present Abraham Lincoln almost devoid of content. No students choose John Brown. Not one has ever named a white abolitionist, a Reconstruction
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Republican, or a civil rights martyr. Yet these same students feel sympathy with America’s struggle to improve race relations. Among their more popular choices are African Americans, from Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass to Rosa Parks and Malcolm X.
While John Brown was on trial, the abolitionist Wendell Phillips spoke of Brown’s place in history. Phillips foresaw that slavery was a cause whose time was passing, and he asked “the American people” of the future, when slavery was long dead in “the civilization of the twentieth century,” this question: “When that day comes, what will be thought of these first martyrs, who teach us how to live and how to die?”7fi Phillips meant the question rhetorically. He never dreamed that Americans would take no pleasure in those who had helped lead the nation to abolish slavery, or that textbooks would label Brown’s small band misguided if not fanatic and Brown himself possibly mad.77
Antiracism is one of America’s great gifts to the world. Its relevance extends far beyond race relations. Antiracism led to “a new birth of freedom” after the Civil War, and not only for African Americans. Twice, once in each century, the movement for black rights triggered the movement for women’s rights. Twice it reinvigorated our democratic spirit, which had been atrophying. Throughout the world, from South Africa to Northern Ireland, movements of oppressed people continue to use tactics and words borrowed from our aboli-
In Vicksburg, Mississippi, these African Americans gathered at the courthouse to hear the news of Lincoln’s death confirmed, to express their grief, and perhaps to seek pro- tection in the face of an uncertain future.
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tionist and civil rights movements. The clandestine early meetings of anticom- munists in East Germany were marked by singing “We Shall Overcome.” Ira- nians used nonviolent methods borrowed from Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr., to overthrow their hated shah. On Ho Chi Minh’s desk in Hanoi on the day he died lay a biography of John Brown. Among the heroes whose ideas inspired the students in Tienanmen Square and whose words spilled from their lips was Abraham Lincoln.78 Yet we in America, whose antiracist idealists are admired around the globe, seem (o have lost these men and women as heroes. Our textbooks need to present them in such a way that we might again value our own idealism.
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