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Virginia Textbook Makes False Claims About Slaves Fighting for the Confederacy

The state of Virginia has some serious issues coming to terms with its racial history. The Washington Post reports that a textbook distributed to fourth-graders in the state claims that thousands of African Americans fought for the South during the Civil War. It’s a claim that has been thoroughly debunked. Debunked as in proven false or having been shown to lack any factual evidence or basis:

The passage appears in "Our Virginia: Past and Present," which was distributed in the state's public elementary schools for the first time last month. The author, Joy Masoff, who is not a trained historian but has written several books, said she found the information about black Confederate soldiers primarily through Internet research, which turned up work by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Virginia, which is preparing to mark the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, has long struggled to appropriately commemorate its Confederate past. The debate was reinvigorated this spring, when Gov. Robert F. Mc­Don­nell (R) introduced "Confederate History Month" in Virginia without mentioning slavery's role in the Civil War. He later apologized.

In its short lesson on the roles that whites, African Americans and Indians played in the Civil War, "Our Virginia" says, "Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson."

Historians from across the country, however, said the sentence about Confederate soldiers was wrong or, at the least, overdrawn. They expressed concerns not only over its accuracy but over the implications of publishing an assertion so closely linked to revisionist Confederate history.

"It's more than just an arcane, off-the-wall problem," said David Blight, a professor at Yale University. "This isn't just about the legitimacy of the Confederacy, it's about the legitimacy of the emancipation itself."

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson of Princeton University said, "These Confederate heritage groups have been making this claim for years as a way of purging their cause of its association with slavery."

But what’s missing, as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes:

Where is the capsule biography of George Henry Thomas, the Old Dominion's noblest son? Where is the account of the thousands of Virginians who emancipated themselves, fled through the lines to freedom, and demanded the right to don the Union blue and free those still enslaved? Is Virginia not equally proud of their courage and sacrifice, given to a cause that was moral and just? 

Strange and ironic that the author would include a completely unsubstantiated (and soon to be corrected by the publisher) claim that thousands of blacks fought for the confederacy, while omitting the ways in which African Americans protested. The author of the textbook is not a historian but this strikes me an overt attempt at historical revision and a subtle effort to draw an equivalency between the aims of the North and the South.


Are we still debating whether the Civil War was fought over slavery?

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