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7 Lies That American Children Are Taught About Slavery

Many African-Americans Fought for Confederacy

A textbook distributed to Virginia fourth-graders in 2010 said that thousands of African-Americans fought for the South during the Civil War — a claim rejected by most historians but often made by groups seeking to play down slavery’s role as a cause of the conflict. The author, Joy Masoff, who is not a trained historian but has written several books, told The Washington Post she found the information about Black Confederate soldiers primarily through Internet research, which turned up work by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “As controversial as it is, I stand by what I write,” she said. “I am a fairly respected writer.”

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln Was Strongly Opposed to Slavery

Abraham Lincoln is often put on a pedestal in American textbooks as one of the greatest opponents of slavery for freeing enslaved people with his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. But in fact, he struggled with conflicting and ambiguous views on slavery during his entire presidential career. This fact is confirmed by his own words: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.”

history's worst slave owners

Downplaying Slavery’s Cruelty

These are the words contained in a textbook called United States History for Christian Schools, second ed., published by Bob Jones University Press in 1991: “A few slave holders were undeniably cruel. Examples of slaves beaten to death were not common, neither were they unknown. The majority of slave holders treated their slaves well.” As noted by historian Edward Baptist, large numbers of enslaved Black people were killed during slavery.

Ku Klux Klan (KKK) meeting, South Carolina, 1951.© Heirs of W. Eugene Smith

Praise for the KKK

In the third edition of the textbook United States History for Christian Schools, published by Bob Jones University Press in 2001, it says “The Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.” Considering the reign of terror the KKK inflicted on Black people in the South for nearly a century after Reconstruction, including thousands of acts of racial terrorism in the form of lynchings, this statement is so incredible it qualifies as ludicrous.

northern slavery



Slavery a Southern Phenomenon

Slavery in the United States is often thought of as a “Southern problem.” Indeed, many students, and even teachers, are unaware of the role the North played in the history of American slavery or the extent of slavery in New England because it is often ignored in textbooks, according to Sarah Kreckel, a curriculum writer at Brown University. Long thought of as the birthplace of abolitionism, New England has a more complex history of slavery and the trade in enslaved people than many realize. Colonial North American ships began to participate in the slave trade as early as the 1640s. Almost all of colonial America’s slave ships originated in New England. As pointed out by Herb Reich in the book Lies They Teach in School: Exposing the Myths Behind 250 Commonly Believed Fallacies, the first colony to legalize slavery was Massachusetts in 1641, where slaves worked in the vast tobacco fields.

slavery in cuba

Slavery Was Mostly About the Denial of Human Rights

A line of thinking that has gained popularity is that the institution’s worst crime was that it denied enslaved African-Americans the liberal rights and liberal subjectivity of modern citizens, according to historian Edward Baptist. Baptist pointed out that it did those things, of course, but it also killed people in large numbers, stole everything from those who did survive and made them live in terror and hunger as they continually built and rebuilt a commodity-generating empire. Baptist claims that once the violence of slavery was minimized, another voice could emerge, whispering that African-Americans, both before and after emancipation, were denied the rights of citizens because they would not fight for them.

New York Stock Exchange

Slavery Should Be Separated From the Rest of American Capitalism

This popularly taught myth says that as an economic system — a way of producing and trading commodities — American slavery was fundamentally different from the rest of the modern economy and separate from it, notes historian Edward Baptist. He claims the widely disseminated stories about industrialization emphasize white immigrants and clever inventors, but they leave out cotton fields and slave labor, implying that slavery and enslaved African-Americans had little long-term influence on the rise of the United States during the 19th century, a period in which the nation went from being a minor European trading partner to becoming the world’s largest economy — one of the central stories of American history. Baptist explains why this thinking became popular: “If slavery was outside of US history, for instance — if indeed it was a drag and not a rocket booster to American economic growth — then slavery was not implicated in US growth, success, power, and wealth,” he wrote on last September. “Therefore none of the massive quantities of wealth and treasure piled by that economic growth is owed to African Americans.”



Written by PH

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