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Southern schools’ history textbooks: A long history of deception, and what the future holds

Brian Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser |

For much of the 20th century, southern classrooms treated Black history — when they touched the subject at all — as a sideshow to a white-dominated narrative.

“It should be noted that slavery was the earliest form of social security in the United States,” a 1961 Alabama history textbook said, falsely. 

The same forces that took over public spaces to erect monuments to the Confederacy and its white supremacist tenets also kept a tight grip on the history taught to Southern pupils. The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) spent decades shaping and reshaping textbooks to put a strong emphasis on Lost Cause views of the Civil War and Reconstruction, which glorified the white supremacist foundations of the Confederacy and was used to justify segregation and authoritarian Jim Crow governance. 

“With all the attention they received in terms of reference to the monuments, I think their most lasting impact was in controlling and censoring textbooks,” said Kevin Levin, a historian who has written on the Civil War in American memory. “That’s often overlooked.”

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