How history textbooks reflect America’s refusal to reckon with slavery (2023)

Four hundred years ago, a group of about 20 Africans were captured in the African interior, probably near modern-day Angola, and forcibly transported on a slave ship headed to the Americas. After tumultuous months at sea, they landed ashore in the first British colony in North America — Jamestown, Virginia — in late August 1619.

Hazen’s Elementary History of the United States: A Story and a Lesson, a popular early 20th-century textbook for young readers, picked up the story of the first black Virginians from there.

“The settlers bought them,” explained the 1903 text, “... and found them so helpful in raising tobacco that more were brought in, and slavery became part of our history.”

Its barebones lesson plan included just two easily digestible factoids for the year 1619: the introduction of the Africans — with an illustration of two half-naked black people standing on a beach before a pontificating pirate and a crowd of onlookers — and the creation of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the first formal legislative body in the American colonies.

How history textbooks reflect America’s refusal to reckon with slavery (1) Library of Congress

But the history of Jamestown and slavery isn’t that simple. Even though the 1619 landing wasn’t the first arrival of Africans in the Americas, it fits within the history of colonial America, black America, the global slave trade, and ultimately the foundation of our country. So how textbooks summarized this history — one characterized by a scant documentary record and often from the perspective of European settlers and white Americans — matters.

“Textbooks are supposed to teach us a common set of facts about who we are as Americans ... and what stories are key to our democracy,” said Alana D. Murray, a Maryland middle-school principal and author of The Development of the Alternative Black Curriculum, 1890-1940: Countering the Master Narrative.

As textbooks show — through omissions, downright errors, and specious interpretations, particularly regarding racial issues — not everyone enjoys the perks of civic belonging or gets a fair shake in historical accounts. This is even true of textbooks used today — 400 years after Africans’ 1619 arrival, more than 150 years after emancipation — with narratives more interested in emphasizing the compassion of enslavers than the cruelty endured by the enslaved.

Textbooks have long remained a battleground in which the humanity and status of black Americans have been contested. Pedagogy has always been preeminently political.

From fast facts to black inferiority: how slavery has been portrayed historically in textbooks

The Hazen’s textbook framed Jamestown and its role in the development of US slavery as an inevitable matter of labor demand and economic pragmatism, a common argument in US school materials at the turn of the 20th century.

Yet that was just one school of thought. After slavery’s end in this country, many Southern-focused textbooks promoted a Lost Cause approach to Jamestown and slavery writ large, portraying the institution as part of a natural order. White Southerners created ideologically driven narratives that yearned for the Good Ole Days where whites sat atop the hierarchy and African Americans were faithful slaves. In this racist revisionism, they didn’t have to reckon with the new black citizen, voter, or legislator as nominal equals.

Subscribe to Today, Explained

Looking for a quick way to keep up with the never-ending news cycle? Host Sean Rameswaram will guide you through the most important stories at the end of each day.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

How history textbooks reflect America’s refusal to reckon with slavery (2)
(Video) Virtual Book Talk - How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America

Somewhat typical in this distorted history was A Child’s History of North Carolina, circa 1916, which also focused on slavery’s profitability and erased its violence. In this view, the enslaved people were happy, and Southern slave owners were reluctant masters at best.

According to the book, enslaved people “were allowed all the freedom they seemed to want, and were given the privilege of visiting other plantations when they chose to do so. All that was required of them was to be in place when work time came. At the holiday season they were almost as free as their masters.” Moreover, “most people in North Carolina were really opposed to slavery and were in favor of a gradual emancipation. Slavery was already in existence, however, through no fault of theirs. They had the slaves and had to manage as best they could the problem of what to do with them.”

Furthermore, the book argued that abolitionists — never a huge voting bloc — were responsible for electing Abraham Lincoln, and that their unspecified violence made the South “indignant.”

Some Northern writers tried their hand at what they believed was a more nuanced approach in revising children’s history books in light of emancipation. And that included how they talked about that slave ship arriving in Virginia and the people aboard.

How history textbooks reflect America’s refusal to reckon with slavery (3) Library of Congress

Take the example of Children’s Stories of American Progress, published in 1886. Northern white writer Henrietta Christian Wright, known for her popular stories of fairies and magic, described that day in August 1619 as a time when the meadows alongside the James River were “beautiful with summer” — a sight lost on the African captives.

However, Wright also imagined eyes that “looked wearily out from the port-holes of the ship” and saw a new landscape that “only seemed dreary and desolate, a land of exile and death.” She alternated between seeing through their eyes with being the omniscient narrator viewing them from above. She implicated European powers for turning Africa into “the great hunting-ground” and capitalizing off internecine struggles on the continent. Yet the plunder that carried Africans “like dumb beasts across the Atlantic” was “all because the white man chose to use his greater intelligence to oppress instead of befriend them.”

Wright didn’t skimp on moralizing about slavery as an evil, unsuitable enterprise for a putatively Christian nation, but she didn’t see Africans as Europeans’ peers, either. Her portrayal of the inferiority of black people reflected a common belief among white Americans, even some former abolitionists. Accounts like hers shaped how generations of white Americans thought about their black compatriots and, according to a rising cadre of black educators, how black Americans who read such textbooks thought about themselves.

Black voices enter the textbook industry after the Civil War — but barely disrupt it

The benevolent racism that infected textbooks also inspired a new generation of history writers who wanted to inject less bias and more accuracy into instructional materials. African Americans, often women teachers or laypeople with little formal training, began authoring textbooks and creating history pageants that spanned centuries with song, speech, and dance in the decades after the Civil War.

“You have these big textbooks that were in schools, but they had nothing to do with what black people are writing. Black history textbooks and black people had a totally different view of citizenship [in the late 1800s to mid-1900s],” Murray said.

(Video) 5 Best Whishlisted Black History Textbook with Best Price in 2020

She became interested in how black people wrote their own history when her graduate class on teaching social studies failed to even mention the father of what became Black History Month, Carter G. Woodson. Shocked by the glaring omission, Murray began researching and found women like Dorothy Guinn, a YWCA director, who co-wrote Out of the Dark (1924), a pageant in which spectators and its high school performers got a theatrical tour through the slave trade in Africa, Reconstruction, and then-contemporary moments.

A character named the Chronicler intones about Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker, and Sojourner Truth. She gets an assist from musical numbers like “Go Down, Moses,” Paul Laurence Dunbar poems, and muse-like characters called the Children of Genius, who represent music, literature, science, and art. They are her Greek chorus, there to enlighten with well-placed tidbits of information.

How history textbooks reflect America’s refusal to reckon with slavery (4) Library of Congress

The zeal to correct and counter other people’s accounts of black history motivated people like North Carolina’s Edward A. Johnson, a black lawyer who released his own textbook, A School History of the Negro Race in America from 1619-1819 in 1890.

In his preface, he wrote of his 11 years teaching and observing “omission and commission on the part of white authors, most of whom seem to have written exclusively for white children, and studiously left out the many creditable deeds of the Negro. … But how must the little colored child feel when he has completed the assigned course of U. S. History and in it found not one word of credit, not one word of favorable comment for even one among the millions of his foreparents who have lived through nearly three centuries of his country’s history!”

Leila Amos Pendleton, a former Washington, DC, teacher, expressed similar sentiments in her A Narrative of the Negro. Dating to 1912, it preceded Woodson’s 1933 pioneering Mis-Education of the Negro, which railed against the American educational system’s failure to teach accurate black history.

Pendleton reframed the Jamestown arrival of those first African Virginians, putting it in a diasporic context that discussed African civilizations (an oxymoron, according to many white authors), the African presence in Mexico, slavery in Muslim countries, and the systematic abuse of indigenous peoples in the colonies.

She also made a direct emotional appeal to black children: “PICTURE to yourselves, dear children, a small group of foreigners frightened and sad, with hearts aching for home and for the loved ones from whom they had been torn …. The early part of the seventeenth century belongs to the dark ages of the world’s history, to the time when men had not yet understood that it is the right of every human creature to be free and that it is the solemn duty of every man and every race to help toward true freedom every other man and every other race.”

LaGarrett King, a professor and founding director of the University of Missouri’s Carter Center for K-12 Black History Education, said it’s hard to know how widely used such texts were. He can say Johnson’s was used in a black Raleigh, North Carolina, high school. Murray, the Maryland principal and scholar, pointed out that Pendleton’s was advertised in the NAACP magazine the Crisis, and that she likely had an unusual advantage: Her husband owned the publishing outfit that produced her book.

But their explicitly political versions of history, which recounted a black past that was more than slavery and sometimes had its own share of romanticism, couldn’t dislodge decades — centuries, really — of white supremacy via textbook. It couldn’t stop such ideologies from being circulated in American schools, even in more recent decades.

From the civil rights movement to today, textbooks still leave a lot to be desired

Even in the heyday of the civil rights movement and beyond, textbooks still failed to capture the reality of what the enslaved endured through their perspective. “In the greater number of textbooks, slave life is pictured as a not too unpleasant condition; in fact, it was often described as having been rather nice in the sheer beauty of relationship between the slaveowner and the slaves,” wrote graduate student James O. Lewis, whose thesis on black representations in textbooks in 1960 influenced the NAACP’s efforts to revamp racist textbooks.

Lewis also concluded that instructional materials were quick to equate blackness with slavery, especially when writing about Jamestown. He noted that all textbooks in his sample included the arrival of the first Africans to Jamestown, and though he observed diversity in how the books described the Africans’ arrival, the majority insisted that slavery began with them in the Jamestown colony.

How history textbooks reflect America’s refusal to reckon with slavery (5) Matthew Staver/The Washington Post via Getty Images
(Video) The American Chronicles of Racism: Black Americans Pt.1

Lewis, however, supported the view of a minority of those textbooks that these involuntary migrants were indentured servants, a debate that continues today. In 1619, when the Africans arrived, Virginia had no legal framework for slavery in the colony, but moved in successive decades to cement slavery as a hereditary racial institution.

King said that, overall, textbooks have failed to clearly communicate the nuances, questions, and debates about the Africans’ status in early Virginia. And that’s part of a larger, existential problem.

“The way we teach K-12 black history is either oppression or liberation,” he said. “The majority of teachers know that 1619 is a year that we represent the first Africans [to come to British North America] on what would become US soil. But then what’s missing is what happened next. Then, in terms of black history, we just move on to slavery. A lot of textbooks now will center them as both [slaves or indentured servants], but the way we understand slavery is very vague. Our textbooks say they were sold for goods, but they could have been indentured and sold for goods, until their terms [of their labor contracts] were up.”

But few K-12 instructors know enough about the debate over the Africans’ status to be able to sort out what’s what, and many agree that textbooks they use are ineffective. A 2018 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), “Teaching Hard History: American Slavery,” found that more than half of teachers (58 percent) polled weren’t happy with their textbooks and almost 40 percent said that their state offered little or no support for teaching about slavery.

King said there’s also the issue of what teachers themselves learned in the textbooks they read as students because “we regularly saw egregious and racist references to black people as late as the 70s.” The birth of black studies programs and the “new” social history, the popularity of Alex Haley’s Roots, and civil rights activism helped usher in curricular changes. The NAACP, for example, had a textbook committee that monitored how schoolbooks portrayed black communities and history. But sometimes, so did groups such as the Confederate Veterans of America, which released a 1932 report decrying one textbook’s portrayal of Jamestown as a raggedy settlement that didn’t compare well with New England’s early colonies.

Even if most textbooks are no longer overtly racist, it doesn’t mean pedagogy has sufficiently changed. Over the past decade, school districts around the country have come under fire for the way they teach slavery, including incorporating slavery references into math equations.

In 2012, an Atlanta elementary school posed this homework question: “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week? Two weeks?” And just last year, San Antonio, Texas parents complained about a history homework assignment that asked eighth graders to list positive and negative aspects of slavery. Turns out the activity was directly tied to a textbook used by the school for about 10 years. Prentice Hall Classics: A History of the United States argued that all slaveowners were not cruel: “a few [slaves] never felt the lash,” and “many may not have even been terribly unhappy with their lot, for they knew no other.”

It’s no surprise then that, according to the SPLC report, only 8 percent of high school seniors surveyed knew that slavery was the central cause of the Civil War, 12 percent understood slavery was important to the Northern economy, and just 22 percent could identify how the Constitution benefited slaveowners.

Textbooks remain a reflection of the political climate

Textbooks have been a part of the culture wars for a long time, said King. In the late 1990s, scholar Leah Wasburn analyzed slavery representation’s in US history textbooks used in Indiana, and she noted how the religious right influenced textbooks in the 1980s and’90s. During this period, there were more conservative references to how Christianity got the enslaved through hard times, as well as traditional family rhetoric that said the wives of slave owners (which assumed women weren’t slaveowners themselves) took care of the enslaved in motherly ways.

King explained, “It boils down to money and politics. One of the strategies of conservative politicians is taking over state school boards, where textbook policies are been adopted.” Seats on those boards are often appointed, and large states — those who can deliver big sales to publishing companies and may require school systems to buy particular textbooks — have a massive say in what content makes its way into student’s hands and minds.

Texas, for example, earned a reputation for inserting dubious information and interpretations about the nation’s creation, evolution, and slavery into its school books. In one case, Moses — he of the Ten Commandments — was listed as a Founding Father, and enslaved people were referred to as immigrant workers in a textbook caption a student flagged in 2015. And this is a problem that transcends the Lone Star state; as a New York Review of Books analysis of the state’s curricular curation stated in this epigram: “What happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas when it comes to textbooks.”

However, outcry has sparked some change: In late 2018, the Texas state school board decided that public school curricula should be changed to emphasize slavery as a primary cause of the Civil War, when it previously prioritized sectionalism and states rights; those changes are scheduled to go in effect this school year for middle and high school students.

(Video) The Citing Slavery Project: Reckoning with the Law of Slavery and Its Legacy

But despite many Americans’ desire to see history as one straight line of progress — and that applies to the timeline of both America the country and American textbooks — King sees a future of hard work ahead.

There are still few textbook authors of color, and in K-12 “more than 80 percent of [public elementary and secondary] teachers are white,” King said. “The curriculum is still Eurocentric, despite the cosmetic diversity. We have quantitatively improved in diversifying the curriculum, though we haven’t qualitatively improved.” This is because so much of black history is defined only through contact with Europeans and American whites, he says.

He suggests intentional evidence-based reframing — which complicates assumptions that black people’s reasons for their actions were the same as white people’s. For example, instead of pointing to black Americans’ fighting on both sides of the American Revolution as mere proof of patriotism — as black Americans are constantly required to prove their fealty in history and contemporary politics — he points out blacks were promised freedom, directly or indirectly, if they took up arms.

Still, he explains there are more good resources for teachers to learn from and use today. This includes materials that aren’t hardbound texts, like the recent 1619 Project from the New York Times; Teaching Tolerance’s “Teaching Hard History” series, which has multiple episodes on slavery featuring accomplished scholars and has recently updated content on teaching K-5 students; and online readings lists about a variety of topics dealing with race, such as the Ferguson syllabus.

For her part, Murray says that as a former teacher and now an administrator, she’s always striving to create another alternative canon.

“There’s always a group of teachers who will teach the curriculum. But there’s one teacher in every department who’s engaged in upper-level discussions about how to create a curriculum that matters to their students. For them, it’s not just about how many facts they have to memorize; it’s about how to include LGBTQ history, for example.”

To push forward, she says educators must continue to pull from intellectual descendants like Leila Amos Pendleton, whom she calls “dream weavers and writers, people who were in front of children teaching them and writing for them.” As Murray notes, “They were imagining for them and for us.”

Dr. Cynthia R. Greenlee is a North Carolina-based historian, journalist, and editor. Her writing has appeared in Literary Hub, Longreads, Smithsonian, and Vice, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @CynthiaGreenlee.

Our goal this month

Now is not the time for paywalls. Now is the time to point out what’s hidden in plain sight (for instance, the hundreds of election deniers on ballots across the country), clearly explain the answers to voters’ questions, and give people the tools they need to be active participants in America’s democracy. Reader gifts help keep our well-sourced, research-driven explanatory journalism free for everyone. By the end of September, we’re aiming to add 5,000 new financial contributors to our community of Vox supporters. Will you help us reach our goal by making a gift today?


Why did they not want the slaves to read and write? ›

Fearing that black literacy would prove a threat to the slave system -- which relied on slaves' dependence on masters -- whites in many colonies instituted laws forbidding slaves to learn to read or write and making it a crime for others to teach them.

How did slavery impact the American colonies? ›

While slavery existed in every colony at one time or another, it was the economic structure of farming in the South that depended on slave labor to prosper. A large labor force was needed to work the large plantations that grew labor-intensive crops like tobacco and rice.

Why was literacy a threat to slaves? ›

Slave owners saw literacy as a threat to the institution of slavery and their financial investment in it; as a North Carolina statute stated, "Teaching slaves to read and write, tends to excite dissatisfaction in their minds, and to produce insurrection and rebellion." Literacy enabled the enslaved to read the writings ...

Are all history books biased? ›

Such bias or inaccuracy reinforces stereotypes and aggravates tensions between cultures, ethnic groups and nations. Since the late nineteenth century, practically all of the books written about the history of the USA are openly biased and extremely narrow in their historical range.

When was it illegal for black people to read and write? ›

After the slave revolt led by Nat Turner in 1831, all slave states except Maryland, Kentucky, and Tennessee passed laws against teaching slaves to read and write.

Why was reading so important to slaves? ›

Enslaved people had many reasons to desire to read and to write. A literate slave could forge passes or free papers and these could aid a slave to escape. In fact, enslaved people forged free papers so frequently that free blacks with bona fide legal documents were often suspected of forging them.

How did African slavery influence the development of the Americas? ›

Recruited as an inexpensive source of labor, enslaved Africans in the United States also became important economic and political capital in the American political economy. Enslaved Africans were legally a form of property—a commodity.

What had the greatest impact on the spread of slavery? ›

One of the primary reasons for the reinvigoration of slavery was the invention and rapid widespread adoption of the cotton gin. This machine allowed Southern planters to grow a variety of cotton - short staple cotton - that was especially well suited to the climate of the Deep South.

How did the abolishment of slavery affect the United States? ›

Former slaves would now be classified as “labor,” and hence the labor stock would rise dramatically, even on a per capita basis. Either way, abolishing slavery made America a much more productive, and hence richer country.

What happened to slaves if they were caught reading? ›

In most southern states, anyone caught teaching a slave to read would be fined, imprisoned, or whipped. The slaves themselves often suffered severe punishment for the crime of literacy, from savage beatings to the amputation of fingers and toes.

What's wrong with history textbooks? ›

Textbooks are the primary source material for students learning about history. The problem is that they're often inaccurate and blinkered, especially around issues of racism and colonialism. They're also just a misleading and dull way to teach history.

Do history textbooks tell the whole truth? ›

History books do not always tell the truth.

The reason is they are written by the writers who have heard the stories by their ancestors.

Should we trust history books? ›

Even the facts that are gathered for a historical writing are going to be from biased sources, no matter how neutral they appear. There has been a re-writing of history happening over the last century that has gutted much information, leaving potholes where there were once more particulars.

Who was the first black person to write? ›

Despite spending much of her life enslaved, Phillis Wheatley was the first African American and second woman (after Anne Bradstreet) to publish a book of poems. Born around 1753 in Gambia, Africa, Wheatley was captured by slave traders and brought to America in 1761.

Who was the first black person to write a book? ›

The poet Phillis Wheatley ( c. 1753–1784) published her book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral in 1773, three years before American independence. Wheatley was not only the first African American to publish a book, but the first to achieve an international reputation as a writer.

How did literacy tests affect African American? ›

In the United States, between the 1850s and 1960s, literacy tests were administered to prospective voters, and this had the effect of disenfranchising African Americans and others with diminished access to education.

How did slavery impact education? ›

Initially African-Americans had essentially no exposure to formal schooling, as a legacy of the extremely high rates of illiteracy that existed under slavery. The first generations of former slaves were able to complete far fewer years of schooling, on average, than whites.

What books does he read and how do these influence his beliefs about slavery? ›

What books does he read, and how do these influence his beliefs about slavery? “The Columbian Orator” was a book of speeches and dialogue and essays that helped Douglass to develop his rhetoric skills as well as his beliefs about slavery. For the first time he saw how a slave may be able to argue his way to freedom.

Why was education so important to former slaves? ›

During the Reconstruction Era, African Americans in the former slave-holding states saw education as an important step towards achieving equality, independence, and prosperity. As a result, they found ways to learn despite the many obstacles that poverty and white people placed in their path.

What explains the development of slavery in the American colonies? ›

The history and growth of slavery in colonial America was tied to the rise of land cultivation, and particularly the boom in the production of tobacco (in Virginia and Maryland) and rice (in the Carolinas).

What caused the rapid growth of slavery in the Americas? ›

This remarkable growth was the result of two factors: (1) continued importation of new slaves from Africa and the Caribbean; and (2) natural population growth, especially among American-born slaves, who lived longer lives and bore more children than African-born slaves.

How much did slavery contribute to the American economy? ›

The estimates based on this new approach suggest that the increase in output per enslaved worker was responsible for roughly a fifth of the growth in commodity output per capita for the United States as a whole between 1839 and 1859—between 18.7 percent and 24.3 percent.

What factors influenced slavery? ›

Ivory, gold and other trade resources attracted Europeans to West Africa. As demand for cheap labour to work on plantations in the Americas grew, people enslaved in West Africa became the most valuable 'commodity' for European traders. Slavery existed in Africa before Europeans arrived.

What influenced the end of slavery? ›

It took political developments and forces (especially the emergence of the Free-Soil movement and the conflict over the expansion of slavery), the South's secession, the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, to put slavery on the road to extinction in the United States.

What was the impact of slavery on the nature of society? ›

There were many consequences of slavery that have left lasting effects on people, and societies. Societies that sold slaves were impacted by the decisions to sell them, such as the Kingdom of Kongo, how their society was weakened by the greed, and need to keep up with the demand of slave trading.

How and why did the United States abolish slavery? ›

Lincoln recognized that the Emancipation Proclamation would have to be followed by a constitutional amendment in order to guarantee the abolishment of slavery. The 13th Amendment was passed at the end of the Civil War before the Southern states had been restored to the Union, and should have easily passed in Congress.

What were the 5 main reasons why slavery was abolished? ›

  • Failure of amelioration. One major factor that enabled abolitionists to argue for emancipation was the failure of the government's 'amelioration' policy. ...
  • Late slave rebellions. ...
  • Declining image of colonial planters. ...
  • Overproduction and economic deterioration. ...
  • Free labour ideology. ...
  • A new Whig government. ...
  • Compensation.
16 Oct 2020

What impact did abolitionists have on the end of slavery? ›

After the Civil War began in 1861, abolitionists rallied to the Union cause. They rejoiced when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring the slaves free in many parts of the South. In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery in the country.

What percentage of slaves could read? ›

By 1860, less than eight percent of Black Bostonians were illiterate, while only an estimated five percent of the overall African-American population could read.

What percentage of slaves died on the journey? ›

Despite the captain's desire to keep as many slaves as possible alive, Middle Passage mortality rates were high. Although it's difficult to determine how many Africans died en route to the new world, it is now believed that between ten and twenty percent of those transported lost their lives.

What is the purpose of a history textbook? ›

History textbooks play a very important role in history education. They should help prepare students to develop the historical knowledge and the skills necessary to interpret the past with clarity, empathy, imagination and rigor.

What is the main problem people have with historical fiction? ›

One of the biggest challenges is knowing how to strike the balance between including too much or too little history in your story. Too much, and your novel will start to read like a history book; too little, and it won't immerse the reader in the period.

What are the disadvantages of written sources of history? ›

Another major limitation of written sources of history is that they may contain biases and distortions. The writer may intentionally write to suit his opinions or leave out some aspects of the events which are not to his liking.

Why should we believe in history books? ›

History matters because it can provide us with perspectives and more information about the problems of the present. At its best, history is there to introduce us to some of the things we need but that aren't obviously visible in the world today.

What do books tell us about history? ›

It makes us Aware about our past and the shared past. It provides Insights into the processes and events of the past and interconnects them.

How do historians determine the truth about past events? ›

They gather and weigh different kinds of evidence, including primary sources (documents or recollections from the time period being studied), material artifacts, and previous scholarship (secondary sources).

Are history textbooks biased? ›

Such bias or inaccuracy reinforces stereotypes and aggravates tensions between cultures, ethnic groups and nations. Since the late nineteenth century, practically all of the books written about the history of the USA are openly biased and extremely narrow in their historical range.

Can history be biased? ›

Biased histories generally purport to provide a fair account of their subject but in fact do not, and so are misleading. This is intrin- sically bad. Biased histories can also have bad consequences; biased accounts of what has happened usually result in injustice.

What are the disadvantages of studying history? ›

First, history can be interpreted in different ways; second, history can be misunderstood, and third, history will always have gaps. It is an incomplete story. Despite these limitations, however, the study of history is a useful tool for intelligence historians.

Did slaves read or write? ›

Legacy. Despite the many social and legal obstacles, and indeed sometimes the physical risk, enslaved African Americans in Virginia learned to read and write. Sources ranging from runaway ads to archaeological finds suggest that as many as 5 percent of slaves learned to read before the American Revolution.

Were slaves allowed to write letters? ›

Letters written by people who were enslaved in the United States are rare. Enslaved people were generally prohibited from learning to read and/or write, often with severe consequences threatened.

What language did slaves speak? ›

In the English colonies Africans spoke an English-based Atlantic Creole, generally called plantation creole. Low Country Africans spoke an English-based creole that came to be called Gullah. Gullah is a language closely related to Krio a creole spoken in Sierra Leone.

What law made it illegal to teach slaves to read? ›

Anti-literacy laws made it illegal for enslaved and free people of color to read or write. Southern slave states enacted anti-literacy laws between 1740 and 1834, prohibiting anyone from teaching enslaved and free people of color to read or write.

Why do African Put rice in their hair? ›

This African Braiding Technique Was Created By Our Ancestors To Help Prevent Hunger During Slavery. This unique method involved hiding dry food in the braids for survival and gives an entirely new meaning to the term 'protective style.

Why were slaves not allowed to know their birthdays? ›

The slavery culture demanded that slaves be treated as property, and to this end, slaves needed to believe they were property. Having no birth record and no true knowledge of one's age helped establish this mindset of being a non-person.


1. Clint Smith with Brittany Packnett Cunnigham: Reckoning with Slavery's History
(Commonwealth Club of California)
2. Gregory Downs, 'Emancipation, Empire, and Expansion: Cuba's Crises and U.S. Anti-Slavery, 1848-78'
(Hutchins Center)
3. Reconsidering Slavery in 17th Century New Netherland
(Hudson Area Library)
4. Celia, A Slave at 30: Revisiting a Classic in the History of Slavery and the Civil War Era
(Virginia Center for Civil War Studies)
5. History of the United States - FULL AUDIOBOOK ½ Charles Austin Beard
6. Stony Brook University Presidential Lecture: The Shadow of Slavery in American Public Life
(Stony Brook University)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Twana Towne Ret

Last Updated: 03/06/2023

Views: 5751

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (64 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Twana Towne Ret

Birthday: 1994-03-19

Address: Apt. 990 97439 Corwin Motorway, Port Eliseoburgh, NM 99144-2618

Phone: +5958753152963

Job: National Specialist

Hobby: Kayaking, Photography, Skydiving, Embroidery, Leather crafting, Orienteering, Cooking

Introduction: My name is Twana Towne Ret, I am a famous, talented, joyous, perfect, powerful, inquisitive, lovely person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.