Social Studies

History Textbook Draws Fire for Assertion on Black Confederate Soldiers

By Erik W. Robelen — October 20, 2010 1 min read
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A history textbook recently distributed to Virginia’s public elementary schools has stirred up controversy because it states that thousands of African-Americans fought for the South during the Civil War, according to a story in The Washington Post. The newspaper says that the assertion is “rejected by most historians but often made by groups seeking to play down slavery’s role as a cause of the conflict.”

At issue is a passage in Our Virginia: Past and Present, which was published by Five Ponds Press. The book was distributed to Virginia’s public elementary schools, and intended for 4th graders, for the first time last month. The Post story explains that 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.

The issue apparently first came to light after College of William & Mary historian Carol Sheriff saw the passage in her daughter’s textbook.

“It’s disconcerting that the next generation is being taught history based on an unfounded claim instead of accepted scholarship,” she’s quoted as saying in the Post article.

State education officials, after being told of the controversy, told the Post that the vetting process for the book was flawed and that they would contact school districts to caution them against teaching the passage.

The passage in question states: “Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson.”

The story quotes Masoff as defending her book: “As controversial as it is, I stand by what I write.”

And yet, later in the article, she seems to soften her stance: “It’s just one sentence. I don’t want to ruffle any feathers. If the historians had contacted me and asked me to take it out, I would have.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.