Don’t you wonder where some of the TEA Party “patriots” and holdover States Rights’ Dixiecrats get some of their unusual ideas about both the Constitution and the causes of the Civil War? Wonder no more. A lot of your fellow citizens (aged 50+) learned it in their Alabama History books.
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.
Swear to God. This book is jaw dropping in its worldview. Even scarier – it was taught in schools in my lifetime. Daddycat recognized it as the textbook he had in 9th grade in Madison County in the late 1960’s!
I can’t help but think of this text when I read about right wing and TEA Party efforts to gain control of state textbook committees and “modify” textbooks. In Tennessee, they’re pretty direct about their goal:
“We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government.”
Fayette County attorney Hal Rounds, the group’s lead spokesman during the news conference, said the group wants to address “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another.
They’ve already taken over the Texas State Board of Education, where a majority believe:
Joe McCarthy was an American hero, white men are responsible for civil rights, and “evolution is hooey.”
According to these activists, the Founding Fathers never wanted a separation between church and state, and they’re doing their best to break down the wall by changing the schoolbooks in Texas.
Some of these guys would have LOVED Summersell’s book! On the flip, we’ll start our review of the book with Chapter 17: People During Slavery Times.
NOTE: read the other post in this series – Lies My Alabama History Book Told Me
If you’re lucky enough to have the book, start on page 229 (PDF copy here). …. I might should say “if you’re UNlucky enough to have this book” – except that the value may skyrocket if the TEA partiers start looking for copies to wave as examples in front of publishers and legislators.
“Most of the slave trading ships were owned and operated by Northerners. While the Negro was badly treated as a rule in the foreign slave trade, he was generally very well treated by Alabama farmers.”
Whew! That’s a relief!
Now, on to that hardworking plantation master…
The master supervised both the driver and the overseer. Occasionally, a master had a pair of binoculars and watched distant workers from the upper story of his plantation house. Thus the stage was set for some lazy field hand who went to sleep beside his job to get the surprise of his life from the master who had been watching him with the field glasses!
Good thing the field hand was “generally” well treated or something bad might happen.
What’s for dinner? page 232 (PDF copy here)
Slaves occasionally sold chickens and vegetables, and with the money thus earned, bought special luxuries, such as candy, coffee, tea and sugar. Christmas and other holidays usually brought special feasts. When crops were laid by, faithful workers were often rewarded with a particular treat, such as a barbecue. Charles Lyell, the British geologist, told of a party that certain slaves gave for their friends at which they served roast turkey, jelly, ice cream, and cakes. Such feasting was unusual, however.
What was the healthy, well-dressed slave wearing? page 233 (PDF copy here)
A few slaves were lucky enough to get castoff clothes from the big house. In clothing, as in food and housing, the slave enjoyed little or no luxury but suffered little or no want.
In one respect, the slave was almost always better off than free laborers, white or black, of the same period. The slave received the best medical care which the times could offer. There are plantation records which show large sums spent on doctors’ bills for the care of slaves. The ill health of the slave meant a loss of working time to the master, and the death of a slave was a great economic loss.
Geez… sounds like the slaves had better medical care then than poor folks in Arizona get now.
In case you missed it, a second Arizona transplant patient died recently after death panel chair Governor Jan Brewer’s administration defunded “…certain organ transplants that had been previously covered by the state’s Medicaid program”
Reading Alabama History For Schools, one is left to wonder what those abolitionists were whining about. After all, on page 233, we find this reassuring statement:
With all the drawbacks of slavery, it should be noted that slavery was the earliest form of social security in the United States. It was the legal responsibility of the master to take care of aged workers.
It is true that the average ages to which slaves lived were less than those of the whites. But the difference was not great, and a similar difference exists between the races today.
Coming soon…. Part 2 – “Why Slavery Wasn’t So Bad.”
After all, some “free Negroes themselves owned slaves!”
ps… interesting historical footnote: there is a history award and a scholarship at the University of Alabama in the author’s honor:
Charles Grayson Summersell Award for Most Distinguished Undergraduate History Student.
Established in 1974, this award is given annually to the most distinguished under-graduate student in history. This award carries a monetary prize.
Charles Grayson Summersell Memorial Scholarships.
Established in 1988 by Frances S. Summersell in honor of her husband, Dr. Charles Grayson Summersell, these scholarships are awarded to juniors and seniors majoring in history. Academic merit is the primary criterion. Students must be nominated by faculty. This award carries a monetary prize.