America has a proud history of anti-racism – like the Declaration of Independence, abolitionists, Nat Turner, the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, the civil war, the Gettysburg Address, Emancipation, the Radical Republicans, Reconstruction, Ida B. Wells, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr, the civil rights movement, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, Angela Davis and so much else.
But since 1890 it has been played down or lied about in American high school history books.
- White teachers in the South: Those who write history books for high school try to appeal to white teachers in the South, particularly in Texas, to sell more books.
- High school history avoids ideas, especially “divisive” ones like anti-racism. It is way easier to teach names and dates – partly because they are so boring!
- To talk about anti-racism would mean talking about racism – which is also played down and avoided.
- A white racist view of Black History which writes it off as unimportant because it is “only about blacks”, a sort of sidebar to Real American History.
- John Brown (pictured right) is written off as a madman, religious nut, fanatic, etc. Yet writers whom Americans are taught to admire in English class. like Emerson and Thoreau, admired him! Not that anyone at high school is going to tell you that.
- Abraham Lincoln, whatever his faults, fought his own racism and freed the slaves. That inner battle with his own racism is never shown.
- The civil war, before 1970, was taught as being mainly about states rights and preserving the union, not about freeing the slaves. Lincoln, even now, is misquoted to that effect.
- The Gettysburg Address: students used to have to learn it by heart. Now most history books do not even print it in full! And those that do barely talk about it. Even though (or, more likely, because) it wonderfully sums up the Union cause in the civil war, tying black freedom to the Declaration of Independence.
- White Reconstructionists, who worked for making the races equal in the South, sometimes putting themselves in great physical danger, like by teaching black children to read, are called carpetbaggers (pictured right) and scallywags – terms lifted straight from white racist propaganda of the time.
- The civil rights movement becomes pretty much just Rosa Parks not giving up her seat on the bus and Martin Luther King giving a great speech about being colour-blind, thus ending racism – and any further need for anti-racism!
- Martin Luther King, like Lincoln, wrote profoundly about race and America, but, as with Lincoln, little of it is used. Both King and Lincoln condemned America for its racist crimes – also left out.
- The Black Panthers – the Texas school board requires they be put in a bad light because they were for “violence”.
Thanks to the overthrow of Jim Crow in the South by the civil rights movement, high school history books are better now than in the 1950s, but there has been little change since at least the late 1980s.
Source: Some of this comes from chapter 6 of James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me (2007). Unfortunately he mainly just talks about anti-racism by white people!