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Confederate Monument located in Elmwood Cemetery – Norfolk, Virginia

In light of the recent focus on removing Confederacy-related statues, and monuments of those who supported the transatlantic slave trade and/or the “peculiar institution” of slavery in what is now the United States of America, a deeper look at history can be helpful to understanding the thoughts of people who support leaving the monuments in place, and those who prefer them moved to places that some consider to be more acceptable: cemeteries and museums. It’s obviously a debate that’s being held all over the country right now, and a worthy one. But is there another conversation about where and how history is remembered and presented that is being missed? Let’s look back at who was responsible for much of the history that was presented in the American history textbooks that shaped the conversations and beliefs that we see today.

There is a phrase heard frequently that “history is written by the victors,” but in the case of the Civil War, the Confederacy lost the war but were later able to have a huge influence on how the story of the war, and slavery, is told. Case in point: The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).

In 1919, 54 years after the end of the war (that surrender at Appomattox), a commission was formed by the United Confederate Veterans (UCV). It consisted of five representative members each, from the UCV, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), and the UDC. The Rutherford Committee, as it was called, was named after Mildred Lewis Rutherford: a well known supporter and storyteller about a particular peculiar institution (“happy” slaves), the South as a victim of North (they were mean and didn’t want to play fair!), and the KKK (well, they protected White women and children, right?).

Mildred Rutherford later went on to publish a pamphlet called “A Measuring Rod to Test Text Books, and Reference Books in Schools, Colleges and Libraries,” which was used to ensure that the history of the “benevolent” and valiant southern war heroes and the “benevolent” southern supporters of slavery were presented with the loudest voices to the public, and not just those in the south. But they lost the war, remember? Who says women didn’t have power before they could vote? Well, that’s another story for another day in this year that we’re celebrating the 100-year anniversary of women gaining that right. Meanwhile, watch this video for some background on history (or her story?).

Whew, right? But wait, there’s more!

Here are some excerpts from an article presented by the magazine, “Facing South,” which show “history” as quoted from textbooks in 1957.

Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those for whom they worked.

Fourth grade history book, Virginia History

[Slaves]… did not work so hard as the average free laborer, since he did not have to worry about losing his job. In fact, the slave enjoyed what we might call comprehensive social security. Generally speaking, his food was plentiful, his clothing adequate, his cabin warm, his health protected and his leisure carefree.

Virginia high school history book, Cavalier Commonwealth

Raise your hand if you didn’t know that enslaved Africans had it so good: food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, vacation, (okay, maybe staycations) and you got to look down on the lowly “free” laborers who worked harder than you did. Nice work if you can get it, right? (Yeah, no.)

And a last exerpt from the article:

Up until 1980, Mississippi’s public schools used Lost Cause textbooks exclusively — and it took a federal court order to make them stop.

Photo title: “The United Daughters of the Confederacy Reception Room, used as a House of Representatives committee room at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson”; Created/Published: 2017-11-03; Photographs in the Ben May Charitable Trust Collection of Mississippi Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Notice the date of the photo above: November of 2017. That’s less than three years ago.

The following are photos of the partial removal of the “Johnny Reb” Confederate Monument, which was located literally in the middle of Main Street, in Norfolk VA. The image of the soldier (not pictured) was removed on June 12, with the balance of the removal to be completed later. According to Norfolk Mayor, Kenneth Cooper Alexander, in this 13 News Now article, the “Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans did not oppose the proposed move to Elmwood Cemetery where the monument will stand amongst the graves of Confederate soldiers.”

Maybe it would benefit our united and freshly “woke” selves to pay as much attention to history textbooks and library collections, as we do to statues.

Bonus read: The video mentioned a document called the Confederate Catechism that was taught to schoolchildren. You can (and should!) read it here. You know how we love primary resources, and it’s perfectly okay for you to read it even if it’s been a while since you were young enough to skip history class.

Oh, and don’t forget to read the 23-page pamphlet, A Measuring Rod to Test Text Books, and Reference Books in Schools, Colleges and Libraries, here. Within the link, scroll down and you will see several options for you to be able to read the document, in addition to the option to listen to a choppy (but accurate) audio version.

*****The mission of the Don’t Duck History program is to promote and facilitate the learning and sharing of American history, along with its personal and social implications, and to highlight the history of Americans whose stories are not often presented in traditional American history textbooks. 

Don’t Duck History is a program of United Charitable, a registered public 501(c)(3) nonprofit.