I think it’s safe to say that all of us were disappointed by the news in the Washington Post today about the fourth grade textbook that includes a reference to thousands of slaves serving as soldiers in Confederate ranks. A broader look at Virginia textbooks on the history of slavery may push us further down the road of disillusionment. Consider Virginia: History, Government, Geography by Francis B. Simkins, Spotswood H. Jones, and Sidman P. Poole, which was used in Virginia schools through the late 1970s. Here is an excerpt and accompanying image from the chapter on slavery:
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.
That’s as bad as it gets, but today is a day to be optimistic about the future. [For those of you interested in the decision on the part of Virginia's state legislature to rewrite history textbooks in response to the Civil Rights Movement, see Adam W. Dean's recent essay in the VMHB.] It’s almost impossible to imagine the swift correction that we witnessed today in a prominent newspaper in response to the above text and image during its tenure in Virginia’s classrooms. In fact, today was quite encouraging. Continue reading