Black Soldiers Misrepresented in Virginia Textbook - NBC4 Washington

Black Soldiers Misrepresented in Virginia Textbook

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    WASHINGTON - MAY 20: Civil War reenactor Kevin Douglass-Green, great-great-grandson of Fredrick Douglass, looks on during the unveiling ceremony of an original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln at the African American Civil War Memorial Museum May 20, 2005 in Washington, DC. In the background is a Fredrick Douglass look-alike. The document, one of 48 copies signed by Lincoln on January 1, 1863, is privately owned and was unveiled for the public as part of the museum's Founders Day Celebration. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

    Good news for Texas: The state is not being slammed over textbooks this time.

    Virginia, however, is taking the heat.

    The Washington Post reports that a textbook given to fourth-graders in the Commonwealth of Virginia details that thousands of African American soldiers fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War -- a claim rejected by most Civil War historians.

    "Our Virginia: Past and Present" is a textbook given to children at Virginia public schools for the first time this fall, the Post reports. Virginia is a state that, like Texas, can boast a deep history worth teaching.

    Of course some of that history is shameful, and true local patriots believe that misrepresenting that shame only perpetuates an affront against the entire Commonwealth. Hence Virginia education officials are asking teachers to pass over a passage that would not withstand the scrutiny of a few fact-checking Google searches.

    The Post reports that College of William & Mary historian Carol Sheriff called out the textbook's author, Joy Masoff -- who is not a professional historian -- on including an account that has been debunked by historians.

    The claim endorsed by Masoff and, now, elementary school textbooks adopted statewide, stems from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a pride organization that boasts that many black soldiers fought on the side of the South. The group also disputes that slavery was the primary point of disagreement that sparked the Civil War, claiming instead that the South fought "to preserve their homes and livelihood," the Post reports.

    Though Masoff used a number of sources, including history books and expert accounts, to write other chapters of the textbook, for the section on the role of African Americans in the Confederacy, Masoff cherrypicked information online accounts put forward by the Sons of Confederate Veterans or other sympathetic parties.

    The African American Civil War Museum website lists a number of books available on the subject (some reading is required to get the most comprehensive, properly sourced information on black troops who fought in the Civil War).

    It is not by far the first time the issue has popped up. In 1999, the Houston Chronicle published a column by historian and Los Angeles Times op-ed writer Truman Clark demonstrating the falsehood of the claim. The Freedmen and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland has posted the text of the March 23, 1865, that serves as the base of Clark's counterclaim (and the fact of the matter): the law passed by the Confederate Congress authorizing the formation of black regiments for the Confederate Army.

    Those men never saw combat in the Civil War -- which ended with Robert E. Lee's surrender on April 9, less than a month later.

    More than it reveals about race in an increasingly diverse Virginia, the faulty passage reveals the problems with textbook authorization that continue to plague U.S. education.