Far-right Org Wants Textbooks to Portray Southern Whites as Victims after the U.S. Civil War

by Dan Quinn

A right-wing organization long involved in the Texas textbook wars wants new history textbooks to portray the treatment of former Confederate states and white southerners after the U.S. Civil War as similar to the British treatment of its colonies in the years leading up the American Revolution.

“Radical Reconstruction (1867-1877) featured numerous serious constitutional problems, many of which reprised Parliament’s violation of American colonial rights before 1776.”

That’s right: Educational Research Analysts, the East Texas outfit founded by the late Mel and Norma Gabler, complains that the people and states that plunged our nation into its bloodiest war — a war they launched in defense of a “right” to enslave millions of human beings — were the real victims in that war and its aftermath. And similar treatment of the colonies, it argues, justified the American Revolution and independence from Great Britain.

The organization criticizes U.S. History textbooks for failing to teach students about these “similarities”:

“U.S. History texts sidestep these stark similarities between the American Revolution and Radical Reconstruction. They ignore the British constitutional basis for colonial revolt in the former. They blame only white racism for opposing the latter.”

Educational Research Analysts is one of the oldest right-wing textbook censorship organizations in the country. Before their deaths in the early 2000s, the Gablers often got media attention with claims that public school textbooks were filled with hundreds of errors, although many of those so-called “errors” were mostly ideological objections to content. They rejected evolution and sex education and insisted that textbooks promote their version of Judeo-Christian morality, a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, and a right-wing view of economics and regulation. And they sometimes succeeded in bullying publishers into bowing to their demands to change textbook content.

Neal Frey, a longtime textbook reviewer for the Gablers, now runs the organization in Longview. He continues to have the ear of far-right members of the State Board of Education, which adopts textbooks for Texas public schools. The state board is set to adopt new social studies and history textbooks this year. The deadline for publishers to submit those textbooks for state approval was April 18.

Educational Research Analysts’ “critique” of how Reconstruction is covered in current history textbooks notes that the American Revolution was justified by British policies like taxation without consent, basing troops in the colonies, improper seizure of private property, and punishment without trial by jury. It then argues that former Confederate states and white southerners suffered from similar outrages during Reconstruction. The organization’s list of complaints includes:

  • Denying the vote to “Southerners who had voluntarily aided the Confederacy” in its bloody rebellion and levying “huge tax increases” on the South.
  • “Depriving the South of its natural leaders” by barring ex-Confederates from public office if they had previously “sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution” — an oath, it’s important to note, that they broke by taking up arms against their country.
  • Enforcing a military occupation of the South. ERA fails to note that white southerners had, in the first years after the war ended, engaged in systematic efforts to oppress newly freed African Americans through Black Codes and other measures, including violence and terror campaigns that southern authorities often ignored or abetted.
  • Transfering private property “previously owned by Southern whites” to newly freed African Americans, a practice ERA claims “unconstitutionally punished the previous landowner.” Of course, those landowners had previously enslaved the African Americans who received that property.
  • Requiring former Confederate states to ratify the 14th Amendment — which gave citizenship to freed African Americans — before rejoining the Union.

ERA goes on to say — correctly — that Reconstruction failed to “achieve racial justice.” But that’s largely because progress toward that end collapsed with the end of Reconstruction. After Union troops were withdrawn — ending an occupation criticized by ERA — southern whites proceeded snuff out almost completely the legal rights and protections African Americans had gained.

It’s clear that the right’s campaign to rewrite history will be a major part of the battle over new social studies textbooks this year. That’s why TFN will be devoting substantial resources to that battle. We’ll have more on that soon.