An Excerpt From Virginia: History, Government, Geography

Yesterday I shared an illustration from a popular history book used here in Virginia titled, Virginia: History, Government, Geography by Francis B. Simkins, Spotswood H. Jones, and Sidman P. Poole.  The illustration speaks for itself, but today I found some text on slavery and race relations from the book, which serves to remind us of just how important it is that our history textbooks be based on first-rate scholarship and not fantasy.

A feeling of strong affection existed between masters and slaves in a majority of Virginia homes. . . The house servants became almost as much a part of the planter’s family circle as its white members. . . The Negroes were always present at family weddings. They were allowed to look on at dances and other entertainments . . . A strong tie existed between slave and master because each was dependent on the other. . . The slave system demanded that the master care for the slave in childhood, in sickness, and in old age. The regard that master and slaves had for each other made plantation life happy and prosperous.  Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those for whom they worked. . . But they were not worried by the furious arguments going on between Northerners and Southerners over what should be done with them. In fact, they paid little attention to these arguments.

One of my readers commented on the previous post that he was assigned this book in 1980.  Now that is incredibly disturbing.

3 comments… add one
  • Roy White Jan 2, 2020 @ 18:04

    The text was my seventh grade history book, in 1963-64. There was a similar account in my fourth grade history text, 1960-61. The seventh grade book “Virginia: History, Government, Geography” was published in 1957. Yet the account only went up to around 1952–to the best of my memory. The book was the most prevalent history textbook in schools throughout Virginia. Gov. Linwood Holton, in the 1970s, wanted to eliminate them from all schools, but the General Assembly balked and instead accepted a gradual “phasing out” of the books. Since school systems are local, and not state controlled, many either ignored the phase out or took a long time to remove them. In some cases, the books were falling apart and there were no replacements because they were no longer in print. Happy slaves, evil Yankee carpetbaggers, states’ rights not slavery, noble Lee, Jackson, Stuart, Davis (seen Monument Ave. in Richmond) and the state song “Carry Me Back, to Old Virginny” (that included a verse about “darkies” and “massa”)…and more, were accepted as the proper history of Virginia. “Slavery was declining…” Not true. It was the biggest economic factor in 1860, representing more than 10 times the total output of all other industries. And it was growing, not declining. Follow the money. The incentive of the South was driven by the fear of losing their most profitable product…slaves. The other implication was the teaching that all African Americans (the term then was “Negroes”) were more inclined to labor and mechanical work instead of higher education. There was also, in Virginia, a law prohibiting mixed race marriage. Violations were punishable by a stiff prison term and banishment from the state. This law lasted until it was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968. All of the above and more reflect racial ideas and attitudes that are ingrained in our minds. When so called textbooks have taught propaganda of white supremacists and those who maintained that segregation was just, it is not hard to see why so many Virginians and others cannot get past the racism or accept diversity. I think things are quite better, today. But there is a long way to go to counter and replace the ideas and doctrines that have been in place for over 400 years.

  • Larry Cebula Jun 25, 2008 @ 12:21

    Yikes. I am pretty sure that if I dug around in Missouri textbooks of that era I would find the very same thing. And that the book was still in use in the 1980s is a reminder of how slowly the educational world responds to changes in scholarship. Poorly-funded public school districts buy big stacks of books and use them for decades. Popular books get “updated” in the most perfunctory ways–a new cover and and extra chapter at the end–and pass off decades-old interpretations as new. Some (not most) teachers develop lesson plans the first year of teaching (lesson plans drawn from their undergraduate education that might itself not have been up-to-date) and teach from those plans for decades.

    The irony is that although curriculum may move slowly, social change is far more rapid–witness Obama.

  • Sherree Jun 24, 2008 @ 1:46

    Kevin,

    The fact that the history book you reference was assigned to a student, or students, in 1980, is not incredibly disturbing; it is profoundly disturbing. For some reason the illustration you posted looks familiar, too. I was educated in Virginia. We had Virginia history in the fourth, seventh and eleventh grades. I can’t remember if this book was used, but it probably was, in the lower grades. That is indeed a frightening thought. Hopefully, this book is out of print. I find your website to be the most informative website on the Internet. Thank you for the work and effort that go into producing it.

    Sherree

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