Did you ever wonder where some of the misinformation about the Civil War comes from? How can people possibly believe that slavery wasn’t a key cause of the war or that slaves were happy or that the KKK was a positive force in the community?
Well, a lot of them learned that right here in Alabama public schools in the 1950s and 1960s from Alabama history textbooks.
I recently happened upon a copy of Charles Grayson Summersell’s 1961 textbook: Alabama History for Schools. While thumbing through the text, I was introduced to a totally alternate reality: one that should have been totally discarded a LONG time ago.
It’s a world where benevolent Alabama slave owners treated slaves better than “Northern slave traders,” slaves received “the very best medical care,” were covered by an early version of Social Security, secession was forced on the South by the “vocal minority of abolitionists” in the North, and those Southern secessionists were merely upholding their rights under the US Constitution.
The 1961 textbook, Alabama History for Schools depicts slavery in Alabama as a system that really wasn’t so bad – at least for the most part because cruel laws regarding education, property ownership, etc. were on the books, but not always enforced.
For instance, we learn on page 233 (PDF copy here) that “one of the least favorable sides of slavery is seen when we study the formal education of the Negro. It was against the law in slavery time to teach slaves to read and write.” But then, we find out that many slaves received an education from their white playmates, religious training, or through the generosity of their masters…..
In the 1940s Alabama children learned that the KKK sometimes resorted to “night riding, intimidation, and whippings.” But there was no mention of those activities in the 1961 version of a popular Alabama history book. Instead, the book reassures us, many Negroes actually supported the political goals of KKK leaders.