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The Southern Myth – How Slavery Became Pleasant

I remember this from my segregated primary school 3rd Grade textbook, which is the one mentioned in the article below. When I first attended an integrated school in 7th Grade, the textbook in the previously all white school quoted almost verbatim the Southern Myth about slavery. My refusal to be tested and graded on anything which was gross historical lie, or to sit in class while it was being taught caused a bit of an uproar. I actually remember one white girl saying in class how well the slaves were treated, and how happy they were…That lasted up until I mentioned Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner (We didn’t know about Gabriel Prosser yet as much of what would become Black History had been erased from the textbooks and had to be rediscovered). and The teacher challenged me to provide material which contravened the information in the “official” Virginia History Book. My Dad, a historian had just completed a book on black history, replete with all the research and documentation from places like the Library of Congress…

I provided said information.

The Daughters of the Confederacy weren’t the last to attempt to rewrite History…Right wingers in Texas have even tried to erase figures like Cesar Chavez and the existence of black contributions to America. So the battle is ongoing.

Welcome to America. I now own your ass.

How Dixie’s History Got Whitewashed

The United Daughters of the Confederacy were once a powerful force in public education across the South, right down to rewriting history: slaves were happy, y’all.

Earlier this week Vanderbilt University announced that it would remove the word “Confederate” from the stone pediment at the entrance to a campus dormitory known as Memorial Hall. The decision brings to a close a long-standing dispute between the university and the Tennessee division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which provided the funds for the construction of the building and claimed naming rights in 1933. As part of the agreement, the school will pay the UDC $1.2 million or the present value of their initial $50,000 donation. This decision is the latest in a string of high-profile moves to remove Confederate iconography from public and private places as well as a reflection of the UDC’s long decline.

The women who founded the UDC in 1894 were committed to preserving and defending the memory of  Confederate soldiers and their cause. By World War I, membership in the UDC had reached roughly 100,000. While chapters were eventually established throughout the country, they remained most influential in the South, where they organized Decoration Day ceremonies, monument dedications, and raised money to support veterans in their old age. Their most important function, however, was the overseeing of how history was taught to the next generation on the high school and college levels. Students were expected to assume the responsibility of defending their ancestors once the generation that lived through the war had died. They did this primarily by authorizing textbooks for classroom use and rejecting those they deemed to be a threat to the memory of the Confederate soldier.

The UDC promoted histories that celebrated the Confederate cause by praising leaders like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and ignoring or re-interpreting the central cause of the war, namely slavery. Consider Susan Pendleton Lee’s 1895 textbook, A School History of the United States, in which she declared that although abolitionists had declared slavery to be a “moral wrong,” most Southerners believed that “the evils connected with it were less than those of any other system of labor.” “Hundreds of thousands of African savages,” according to the author, “had been Christianized under its influence—the kindest relations existed between the slaves and their owners.” It should come as no surprise that in her account of Reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan was necessary “for protection against . . . outrages committed by misguided negroes.”

By the first decade of the 20th century and with the encouragement of the UDC, most Southern states established textbook commissions to oversee and recommend books for all public schools that provided a “fair and impartial” interpretation. These committees worked diligently to challenge publishers who stood to threaten the South’s preferred story of the war: “Southern schools and Southern teachers have prepared books which Southern children may read without insult or traduction of their fathers. Printing presses all over the Southland—and all over the Northland—are sending forth by thousands ones which tell the true character of the heroic struggle. The influence . . . of the South forbid[s] longer the perversion of truth and falsification of history.”…

…The effort made by the UDC to control history textbooks paid off immeasurably and continued to shape how Americans remembered the Civil War well into the 20th century. As late as the ’70s, the state of Virginia still used the popular textbook Virginia: History, Government, Geography by Francis B. Simkins, Spotswood H. Jones, and Sidman P. Poole, first published in 1957. Its chapter on slavery—“How the Negroes Lived under Slavery”—featured a well-dressed African-American family on board a ship shaking hands with a white man, who is presumed to be the family’s new owner. Here is how it describes 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.

My Dad always argued that black folks were the first non-Asian people to reach the Americas from Africa. He had visited Mexico and seen the statues of the Olmecs who ruled parts of what is now Mexico and Central America in 1700 BC. It is only about 1,000 miles by sea at the closest point between Africa and South America aided by the “Westerlies”. He believed that the great trading period starting about 7th Century was actually the second or third rise of trade and exploration in West Africa. Indeed it is now known as a result of that second/third trade period that the first known African migrated to live in England in the 13th Century, and there may have been trade between North Africa and Europe as early as the Vikings.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2016 in Black History, The New Jim Crow

 

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Virginia Historical Society Developing Slave Name Database

The Virginia Historical Society has an extensive digital collection for researchers and History buffs. The following video is from their “An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia” exhibition.

Va. group creating slave name database

The Virginia Historical Society is creating an online database that will contain the names and personal information about formerly enslaved African-Americans.

The project is called “Unknown No Longer: A Database of Virginia Slave Names.” It is financed by a $100,000 grant from Dominion Resources and The Dominion Foundation.

The free database will glean its contents from some of the more than 8 million processed manuscripts in the Richmond society’s collections.

The society says the database will be a resource for academic researchers, family historians and genealogists.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2011 in Black History

 

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