Black Confederates in Retreat? (Part 2)

Has anyone else noticed that no official statement in response to the Virginia textbook/black Confederate debacle has been issued by the Sons of Confederate Veterans?  Perhaps they are taking the time to carefully craft a response, but I doubt it.  There is really nothing they can do in the face of what the general public now understands is a flawed view of the Confederacy and the Civil War.  Any statement that rehashes the same tired claims of revisionism and political correctness will do nothing more than assuage the concerns of its members and those who accept this flawed historical perspective.  This morning I read that the publisher will provide stickers for the books indicating the problem with the passage in question while Loudoun County schools has decided to pull the books from the classrooms. [I was also pleased to see my black Confederate Resources page referenced in one article.]

I’ve already commented on the consequences of this story making the mainstream news, but there are a few more things worth noting.  One of the most frustrating aspects of this subject is the ease with which the SCV has been able to publicize this silliness.  If you go through old posts you will notice story after story of local chapters of the SCV and UDC commemorating the lives and placing grave markers of so-called black Confederates.  In every case that I’ve come across no evidence was provided that the individual in question was, in fact, a soldier in the Confederate army.  Reporters who cover these stories have no knowledge to judge the veracity of these stories and the ceremonies are reported as legitimate.  Unless the reporter has had his/her head in the clouds over the past few days it is difficult to imagine these stories continuing to be reported without some kind of disclaimer.  The most obvious example is the annual commemoration of Richard Poplar in Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg.

In the end, I couldn’t be more pleased that the author gathered her “sources” from the Internet.  That is where this battle will be one or lost and I have no doubt that sites like Ann DeWitt’s will have less influence if those of us in the classroom do our jobs and teach our students how to use this powerful tool.  And finally, it’s nice to see that we are thinking critically about the past and not turning this into an extension of political and cultural feuds.  In contrast with the controversy surrounding Governor McDonnell’s proclamation, retraction, and recent statement this has been a breadth of fresh air.

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There was a story about this on Morning Edition this morning and, while not an official SCV response, they had a sound bite from Charles K. Barrow of the SCV, who said:

“Some people just don’t like the truth. Some people are dead set that there’s no black Confederate soldiers. This was their home and they defended their home just like anybody else when it was being invaded.”

Of course Barrow didn’t address the “two black battalions under Stonewall” issue. I think one good thing about the sentence included in this textbook–”Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson.”–is that in the subordinate clause it makes a specific claim that is demonstrably false and literally indefensible. Had it just been the murkier “Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks,” the media conversation right now might be somewhat different than it has been.

Thanks David. You just helped to make my point. Barrow says: “Some people just don’t like the truth.” That’s called intellectual bullying and has no credibility whatsoever. It is intellectual bankruptcy.

The claim about two battalions under Jackson is almost surely a perturbation of the Steiner account.

Not long ago, many of these Heritage types spoke as though the CSA was a community of Paladins. Like the Paladins, most of their stories were myths hung on shreds on truths, but to a ready audience they were gospel. Now the SCV and brethren sound like petulant children, whining about how someone hid all those dragons slain by their kin. For the part your blog played in revealing them, congratulations, Kevin!

Thanks Marianne. I would like to think that this website functions to both raise questions and offer some guidance for those who have a serious interest in this subject.

Kevin-I agree that this incident may turn out to be a blessing, although it began as one in disguise. It’s reaching mass media and thus audiences who would never come across this blog, Jim Epperson’s excellent causes of the Civil War website or anything similar.

I personally favor pulling the book from the classroom. This isn’t a minor mistake that can be corrected by an errata slip or sticker. It is evidence of inexcusably shoddy (a term born in the Civil War), lazy, compilation (it doesn’t deserve to be called scholarship) and, thus, calls the accuracy of the entire work into question. It is one thing to take a controversial position, even a minority one, if the author acknowledges that his/her position has that status and sets forth evidence supporting the position that can stand up to legitimate scholarly scrutiny. Let’s face it, much of the current scholarship had to fight the lock the Lost Cause had on scholarship on the Civil War, but the scholars who led the fight for an honest account of slavery and race relations during the antebellum, bellum, and post-bellum periods, North and South, fought it clean and fought it right. Sloppy and lazy is inexcusable, no matter what position the person is taking.

As I’ve said before, special care must be taken in history textbooks for very young children to be absolutely and scrupulously accurate. Most kids that age don’t begin to have the experience to be able to critique what their textbooks say.

In the midst of all of the revisionist political and historical (and often hysterical) hyperbole holding traction in the public space, it is heartening to note that a reasonable voice of one could slay a myth that seemingly would not die. While I am grateful for the Professor’s speaking out on the nonsense of thousands of black confederate soldiers, it is equally dismaying that a non-historian is writing history for the education of the children in this, or any, state. How does that happen?

Is it not reasonable to expect history textbook authors have recognized history subject credentials if their words and conclusions are to be impressed upon the minds of our children? Should we fear that an accountant may be using the internet to write the next science textbook for our schools? Beyond that, for the millions spent in our schools, that fact checking a proposed history textbook for statewide use was left to three elementary school teachers reportedly paid $200 simply leaves me mouth agape.

This comment was originally posted to Ta-Nehisi Coate’s blog at http://www.theatlantic.com. TheRaven has career experience in professional, health science, medical education and higher education publishing.
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I think we need to consider symptom vs. disease here. A 4th grade text written without proper research calls the publisher into question. The WP piece states that Five Ponds Press has published 14 textbooks, all of which have been authored by Joy Masoff and adopted by Virgina.

A visit to http://www.fivepondspress.com/ confirms that its single-author publishing program only serves Virginia. Running Five Ponds Press’ address (30 Hidden Spring Drive, Weston CT 06883) through Google Maps and Google Earth reveals a location near a reservoir, very close to two nature preserves. No commercial buildings are visible, homes appear to be mid-to-large in size and are very-well spaced. In Connecticut, this only means wealth.

We have a wealthy writer who set up her own publishing company to serve a niche market. No problem there. But the niche market happens to be elementary education in a populous state that struggles to reconcile modern diversity with historic truth.

This book and the very existence of Five Ponds Press is a symptom. The underlying disease will be found with answers to these two questions:

1. How many members of Virginia’s review committee have personal and/or longstanding relationships with Ms. Masoff?

2. Why does Virginia need elementary textbooks, specifically written for Virginia’s “unique requirements”, with titles such as:

a. Mali, Land of Gold and Glory
b. The African American Story

Eleven book covers are displayed on the Five Ponds Press web site. Only one is specific to Virginia, there are four “Our World” titles and two “Our America”. Why do Virginia elementary education authorities want specialized texts for general social subjects? Why did they source such common material from a complete unknown, whose publishing efforts are 100% devoted to Virginia? Every topic but the Virginia title could have been sourced from reputable, mainstream publishers.

Pending further information from (for example) review of Masoff’s other titles, what I suspect here is an attempt at Texas or Kansas-style indoctrination (think creationism). My speculative conclusion is that perhaps 2 or 3 members of the Virginia committee, with an ideological agenda and ties to Ms. Masoff, influenced the committee into approving a dubious textbook supply agreement.

Masoff’s payoff is evidenced by her home address. She has profited from history fraud. It’s really a perfect crime because no statutes exist with which to prosecute her.

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