Proposed Texas Textbook’s Twisted Passages on Racism, Slavery and the Civil War

by Dan Quinn

failcoverThe Mexican American Heritage textbook submitted to the State Board of Education for adoption in Texas this year doesn’t just promote offensive racial stereotypes and distort the history of Mexican Americans. It also teaches some pretty twisted and politicized history about slavery, the Civil War and racism.

Prof. Emile Lester from the University of Mary Washington has identified numerous problems in his review of the textbook’s coverage of the Civil War and Reconstruction. One of the worst problems: the textbook’s perverse suggestion that Reconstruction and persecution of white southerners were somehow responsible for racism and discrimination against African Americans.

Prof. Lester notes that the textbook fails to discuss the Black Codes, which southern states passed after the Civil War as a strategy for severely limiting the rights and freedoms of African Americans. Congress responded by passing the Reconstruction Acts and imposing military rule on the former Confederate states in an effort to protect those rights and freedoms. But here’s how the textbook describes what happened (page 357):

“Forcing civil rights on Southern states during Reconstruction failed because it bypassed representational avenues and trumped the beliefs of millions of citizens, including veterans and previous legislators from the South. While freed slaves were being mass registered for the Republican Party by Republican governors, southern white citizens had been disenfranchised.”

That’s a bizarre and truly twisted accounting of history. First, Congress passed civil rights laws that trumped the “beliefs of millions of citizens” because those citizens enacted laws that undermined freedom and equality of former slaves. Second, the complaint that “southern white citizens had been disenfranchised” ignores the fact that they had engaged in armed rebellion against the Constitution, government and laws of the United States.

As Prof. Lester also points out, once Reconstruction ended, southern states passed laws that effectively swept away the freedoms, rights and protections that African Americans had gained after the Civil War. He writes:

“The claim that Reconstruction ‘failed’ is unbalanced because it does not note that the protection of the safety and rights of African Americans and the ability of African Americans to vote and hold elected office in the South were greater in many respects during this period than they were for almost a century or more after Reconstruction ended.”

But Cynthia Dunbar’s textbook rewrites this history by suggesting that the real problem after the Civil War was the federal government’s supposed persecution of white southerners.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. You might recall that when Dunbar served on the Texas State Board of Education in 2010, she helped rewrite public school curriculum standards that also twisted the history of slavery and the Civil War. Now she has published a “history” textbook that promotes much of that same revisionist history. Some other examples from the textbook:

  • The textbook argues (falsely) that “states’ rights” and the power of the national government were the “root” causes of the Civil War, such as in a passage on page 219: “Slavery had been abolished, but the root issue of how strong the national government should be, compared to state governments, would remain unresolved for many years.” Historians have strongly rejected this revisionist history, which Southern apologists have been pushing since the end of the Civil War. Slavery, not “states’ rights,” was the central cause of the Civil War.
  • The textbook almost makes the Confederacy sound like the birth of the modern Tea Party movement. See page 218: “The South­ern Confederacy seceded under the leadership of Mississip­pi Congressman and Mexican-American War veteran, Jeffer­son Davis. He argued that the U.S. national government had grown too strong, as exemplified in its demands for aboli­tion.” In fact, neither incoming President Lincoln nor the federal government in general demanded abolition. Moreover, southern states had insisted before the Civil War — successfully — that the federal government pass the Fugitive Slave Act, which required free states to support slavery by sending escaped slaves back to their masters.
  • The textbook falsely suggests that slavery was on its way out through peaceful means. See, again, page 218: “As support for slavery waned in the U.S. in the 1840s and 1850s, various legislators attempted to abolish slavery peacefully and democratically through popular vote in each state. Ultimately, however, the effort to forestall war and secession over slavery and states’ rights failed.” Prof. Lester notes that the textbook offers no evidence substantiating this suggestion and, in fact, “makes no mention of the Supreme Court’s notorious Dred Scott decision, and only passing reference to the Fugitive Slave Act.” Moreover, he explains, southern politicians long argued in favor of foreign conquest and national expansion as a way to spread slavery to new territories. Perhaps slavery would have ended someday far into the future, but powerful forces protected that evil institution right up to and throughout the Civil War.

You can read Prof. Lester’s full review here.

The State Board of Education will likely hold public hearings on the Mexican American Heritage textbook in September and November, with a final vote set for that November meeting. You can add your name to a petition calling on the state board — as well as local school districts — to reject the textbook and ensure that it never makes it into Texas classrooms.

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