African Americans and Black Confederates (Part 2)

[Hat-tip to Brooks Simpson]

This morning I reported that Hampton historian, Veronica Davis, filed a lawsuit against the publisher of the 4th grade history textbook with the black Confederate reference to prevent them from editing the questionable passages.  At first, I thought that this was a reasonable request calling on all parties not to jump the gun, but to first do the necessary work to ensure that the text is properly corrected in a way that brings it in line with modern scholarship.  Thanks to Brooks we now have a copy of the petition and it is bizarre.  Davis supports her petition with the following:

The petitioner is gathering research and witnesses that will support the fact of there being black (African American) soldiers that served in the Confederate Army.

Davis goes on to argue:

The defendants did not establish a committee to investigate whether or not there was an error; they merely accepted the opinion of a Caucasian American parent who happens to be a professor of History at the College of William and Mary.  The parent did not provide written proof to support that her opinion was a fact.  In addition, the defendants disregarded research from notable African American scholars and Confederate Organizations.

And in light of this morning’s post the following is quite interesting:

The changing of the text also presents long and short term effects on the Plaintiff’s children and other children who have studied who have studied the contributions of African Americans, for example diminished self-respect, anger, and increased feelings of worthlessness.

Here is an article about Ms. Davis that appeared this past summer in Richmond’s Style magazine.

15 thoughts on “African Americans and Black Confederates (Part 2)

  1. Marianne Davis

    This is very sad. I will never understand how it could increase a child’s self-respect to study how her ancestors fought to stay enslaved, but that is not the main issue here. There can be no question that for centuries the contributions of African-Americans to the U.S. were slighted or ignored. All ethnic and religious minorities, and the half of the country in skirts, were treated as unimportant. That should be faced candidly, and the sensitivity it generates among people in those communities must be seen as valid.
    Having said that, it is terrifying to think that historians’ ethnicity or gender should be their bona fides. There is an idea implicit in this petition that history is passed along in one’s blood. Evidently, a white historian cannot write about African-Americans, an Asian about Europeans, or a woman about men. (If Ms Davis does not want a white history, she may want to skip all that “research” from “Confederate Organizations.”) Worse yet, Ms. Davis seems to think that African-American historians as a group are backing the black CSA soldier mirage. Does she not see that documentary proof of large numbers of slaves in the armed ranks of the CSA would be a prize-winning, career-making coup that any historian would covet? The petition insists we go marching backwards toward a new slogan – Heritage, not History.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Marianne,

      As I stated in the earlier post, I think we need to understand that in this case (as in many others that involve sensitive issues) the pursuit of truth/historical accuracy is but one goal and perhaps not the most important one in the process.

      Reply
  2. Brendan Wolfe

    I agree Ms. Davis’s petition is odd and her proposed suit baseless, all of it serving only to discredit her. That said, it’s worth remembering that this fourth-grade textbook is more than just one passage about so-called black Confederates. I’ve read “Our Virginia” from cover to cover. Writing for fourth-graders is no small challenge, and by and large I think the book does it well. Still, there are so many errors sprinkled throughout the text, both large and small, that it suggests to me the author and publisher were simply not familiar with the basic history.

    Sir Walter Raleigh, for instance, did not travel to Roanoke; 1607 was not the first time Europeans and Virginia Indians met; the First Battle of Bull Run was not in 1862; the combined casualties of First and Second Bull Run were not 6,000; the vast majority of free blacks did not find the decision of whether to support the Confederacy “tough”; and Virginia’s public schools did not become fully integrated in 1963, et al.

    I’ve communicated with the publisher and received very encouraging, non-defensive responses, suggesting that they plan to re-review the entire book — not just the black Confederates passage — in preparation for a reprinting in January.

    In the meantime, what interests me is how involved Virginia Indians — including a colleague of mine at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities — were in vetting portions of this book. There are cultural and political reasons for their involvement, and my guess is that they approached the publishers and not the other way around. I wonder what it would take to get similar participation from credentialed Virginia historians. Here’s hoping that the publishers reach out for such assistance, now and in the future.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Brendan,

      Nice to hear from you and thanks for providing a broader view of this particular textbook. Sounds like much of it was researched online.

      Reply
  3. Dick Stanley

    Ms. Davis probably was brought up on the flawed history textbooks of her own day. It would be interesting to know which ones they were and how many mistakes they had in them.

    Reply
  4. Marc Ferguson

    Kevin,
    In the comments section of the article on Davis filing her law suit there is a “treasure trove” of the usual claims for “black Confederates,” and as usual no critical analysis of the sources whatsoever. I have been tempted to respond, but then I remember that responding to the myriad individual “facts” is a version of wack-a-mole.

    Reply
  5. EarthTone

    This situation is filled with an almost tangible irony. Here we have a black woman who is worried about the proper presentation of history and the historical record… and the “history” in controversy is based on reporting from a group whose record on presenting African American history is checkered, at best.

    What is troublesome to me is the idea that the material in question must be vetted through “notable African American” scholars. The inference is that no white person is fully qualified to view the historical record and determine the legitimacy of the Black Confederate claim.

    This is scary… when does it end? Does this mean, for example, that if an African American writes an American history book with whites as the primary subject, it must be vetted by a group of Caucasians before it can be deemed valid?

    Also, there is a comment from Davis that the problems with the book originated with “the opinion of a Caucasian American parent who happens to be a professor of History at the College of William and Mary.” That makes me wonder – what if the complaint had come from an African American parent… would that have made it “OK”? And is the implication that Caucasians don’t have, or can’t have, a legitimate interest in the presentation of history that involves African Americans?

    Again, it’s just very very scary. Given the way that the historical record regarding African Americans has been distorted in the past, I can understand the concern. But this makes it seem like some kind of racial stamp of approval by “notable scholars” is needed to resolve these kind of controversies – I don’t like the place that this kind of thinking can take us.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      It’s hard to know what to make of all of this. There is a great deal of misunderstanding and defensiveness in all of this, but we should refrain from being accusatory. This particular aspect of our collective past is highly emotionally charged and raises all kinds of questions about how we’ve chosen to remember the past. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  6. EarthTone

    Here is an interesting passage from the Davis’ Petition:

    III. Petitioner and other African Americans will suffer irreparable harm if the textbooks are changed.

    An immediate stay is warranted because Petitioner is currently seeking to restore a historic cemetery where (African American) Confederates soldiers are (were) buried. The changing of the text without documented proof of their being no Black (African American) Confederate soldiers will diminished (sic) the significance of the burial grounds; there by eliminating possible funding from Confederate organizations and historical designations from regional, state and federal entities.

    Reply

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