Contrasting Chronologies: Critiquing the Textbooks
Below is a synopsis of “important” historical events between the years 1642 and 1732 as they are presented in a popular U.S. history textbook. Reflect on the question here as you consider the chronology:
- What’s left out in this chronology?
- What are the (hidden) messages in such a chronology?
- How do history books convey belief systems?
- What is important, according to the authors of this text book?
- From your reading of this part of the book how would you alter this list?
Important Events of the Period
English Civil War
Charles I executed
First Navigation Act passed
Stuarts restored to throne; Charles II becomes king
Halfway Covenant drafted
English conquer New Netherlands; New York founded; New Jersey established
King Philip’s War (New England)
Bacon’s Rebellion (Virginia)
Pueblo revolt (New Mexico)
Pennsylvania chartered; James II becomes king (1685)
Dominion of New England
James II deposed in Glorious Revolution; William and Mary ascend throne
King William’s War
Witchcraft panic in Salem Village
Board of Trade and Plantations established
Iroquois adopt neutrality policy
Queen Anne’s War
Tuscarora War (North Carolina)
Yamasee War (South Carolina)
Sometimes we are able to see errors in the past that go unnoticed in the present. The following is an excerpt from a sixth grade textbook of a major published that was used in the New York City schools in the 1930s. Consider the affect this excerpt may have had on the young people reading it and on their future ideas about the Reconstruction Era of U.S. history.
When they (Negroes) realized that they were free, many thought they must get away from the plantations where they had lived as slaves, though they had little idea of where to go or what to do. They had no homes and no money. They began to wander about, stealing and plundering. In one week in a Georgia town, one hundred-fifty Negroes were arrested for thieving.
Many ignorant Negroes thought that the property owned by their former masters was theirs now and some even took possession of land and began building houses and planting their farms. Often they were insulting to the white people. In some localities conditions were so bad that the white women were afraid to go outside their homes even in the day-time. Many of the white people slept with a gun within reach so that they could protect themselves in case they might be attacked by a Negro.
By 1871 Congress had pardoned most of the white leaders of the War, and they were again allowed to vote and hold office. But it was almost impossible for white men to be elected in four of the states, because there were many more Negroes than white men in these states. So the white men decided to take other means to get the power into their own hands. A secret society, known as the Ku Klux Klan, was organized, and its members set out to spread terror among the ignorant Negroes. Knowing that the Negroes were very much afraid of spirits, or ghosts, the members would dress in white robes with hoods over their heads and grinning masks hiding their faces. Disguised in this way, they would visit the home of a Negro in the dead of the night. When they had roused the trembling Negro from sleep, they would make all sorts of threats about horrible things that would happen to him if he dared vote in the next election. The Negroes were quite terrified and nothing could make them go to the polls after such a visit.
Herbert Aptheker, ed., A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States, 694
The thread of history is continuous with few outright breaks. Below are listed some facts of present reality. How do these realities relate to the past? What are some of the other legacies that we live with today?
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. 2,293,157 prisoners were held in federal or state prisons or in local jails in 2007, an increase of 1.5% from yearend 2006. At yearend 2007 there were 3,138 black male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,259 Hispanic male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 Hispanic males and 481 white male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 white males.
U.S. Department of Justice, 2007
Racial differences exist, with blacks disproportionately represented among homicide victims and offenders. In 2005, homicide victimization rates for blacks were 6 times higher than the rates for whites.
U.S. Department of Justice, 2005
One out of every nine African American males are in jail or prison on any given day.
Sixty percent of all women in prison are women of color.
Of the more than three thousand people who have been executed since 1930, nearly half have been people of color.
Eighty-five percent of those executed since 1977 were punished for crimes against white victims.
In Mississippi, killers of whites receive the death penalty six times more frequently than killers of African Americans. In Illinois, killers of whites were four time more likely to be sentenced to death than killers of blacks.
Only one white man in Ohio has been executed for killing a black person since 1884 (342 people have been executed during that period).
Fact Sheet, American Friends Service Committee, 1501, Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA
Meet the Press Programs
Identify panels of persons to interview form among the following heroes, heroines, and villains in this chapter. Schedule press interviews, giving every person a chance to be either a journalist or one of the panelists reporting on the conditions of life for African Americans and their action taken in resistance. Some are actual person; others are characters who should represent the mentality of the time. Read the section on African American Resistance for background.
Toussaint L’Ouverture and Napoleon
A runaway slave living in a hidden maroon society (Francois Macandal); a woman rebel on board an African slave ship
A colonial “big” white (merchant or landowner); a colonial “small” white (clerk, artisan, grocer, vagabond, debtor, thief) in San Domingo
A colonial white child; a black slave child on a sugar plantation
Harriet Tubman; Sojourner Truth
Frederick Douglass; Ida B. Wells
African American veteran of World War I involved in the 1919 race riots; Rosa Parks
Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Henry Highland Garnet
J. Edgar Hoover, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark
Slave Commodities: White Gold
Research the story of sugar cane production in the Caribbean. Tell the story from the standpoint of a sugar cane slave at the time of the rebellion in San Domingo. In your story, tell why and how you resisted your chains and joined up with Toussaint L’Ouverture.
They Advance Singing
The more they fell, the greater seemed the courage of the rest. They advanced singing.
So noted a Frenchman recalling the blacks he was fighting in San Domingo in1 803. Write about this kind of courageous resistance from people who would give up their lives in order to obtain freedom for their people. Note evidences of this kind of courage in the history of African American resistance described in this chapter. Have you ever witnessed such courage?
Internet Curriculum Activities and Readings
The Amistad: Mock Trial
In 1839, a Cuban schooner was found off the coast of Long Island, New York. It was a slave trading ship with 53 Africans on board. There had been a mutiny, two officers had been killed. The Africans were seeking to turn the boat back to their home in Africa. They were not successful and were instead taken into American custody. A trial was held to decide whether the Africans would be free to return home or whether they would be treated as property and face a life of slavery. Prepare for trial! You must decide whether the Africans will be set free or forced into slavery. You will use the argument of the time to make the best case possible. There are no right answers. If you argue more effectively then your opponent, you win regardless! http://projects.edtech.sandi.net/hoover/amistad/
American Slave Narratives
From 1936 to 1938, over 2,300 former slaves from across the American South were interviewed by writers and journalists under the aegis of the Works Progress Administration. These former slaves, most born in the last years of the slave regime or during the Civil War, provided first-hand accounts of their experiences on plantations, in cities, and on small farms. Their narratives remain a peerless resource for understanding the lives of America's four million slaves. What makes the WPA narratives so rich is that they capture the very voices of American slavery, revealing the texture of life as it was experienced and remembered. Each narrative taken alone offers a fragmentary, microcosmic representation of slave life. Read together, they offer a sweeping composite view of slavery in North America, allowing us to explore some of the most compelling themes of nineteenth-century slavery, including labor, resistance and flight, family life, relations with masters, and religious belief. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/wpa/wpahome.html
Africans in America
America's journey through slavery is a Public Television series presented in four parts. Each program offers an historical Narrative, a Resource Bank of images, documents, stories, biographies, and commentaries, and a Teacher's Guide for using the content of the Web site and television series in U.S. history courses. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/home.html