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Texas Textbooks Make Slavery a “Side Issue,” Omit Jim Crow and KKK

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As America reexamines the debates over the Confederate flag, slavery, the Civil War and the Confederacy, a new issue has made its way to Texas public schools. This fall, five million public school students in the Lone Star State will study from new social studies textbooks that omit Jim Crow segregation and the Ku Klux Klan, and whitewash the role of slavery in the Civil War. Also, under Texas educational standards, the Atlantic slave trade has been rebranded as the “Atlantic triangular trade.”

According to Pat Hardy, a Republican member of the Texas State Board of Education, slavery was a “side issue to the Civil War.” The state board, which sets policy and standards for public schools in the state, adopted new standards in 2010 to overcome what is regarded as a liberal bias. “There would be those who would say the reason for the Civil War was over slavery. No. It was over states’ rights,” Hardy added.

As was reported in The Washington Post, children will learn that the Civil War conflict was caused by “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery” — presented in that order to give slavery a secondary role in the war. Moreover, while Texas students are required to read Confederate president Jefferson Davis’ speech, which does not mention slavery, they are not required to read the famous speech by vice president Alexander Stephens, who declared that the Confederate government was based on the preservation of slavery, which he called “the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

A Los Angeles Times editorial in 2010 attacked the Texas board for presenting Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis as “moral equivalents.” The editorial also suggested that Texas “consider including each of the Confederate states’ secession statements” in the social studies curriculum, noting that Texas’ secession statement stated, “[Texas] was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery — the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits — a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.”

Further, the new textbooks fail to mention the Ku Klux Klan, an organization formed by Confederate veterans following the Civil War to terrorize Black people and maintain white supremacy in the south. At its height, the Klan boasted between four and five million members nationwide, according to the Dallas Morning News. The Texas State Historical Association notes that in the early 1920s, Klan membership was as high as 150,000 in Texas, and the organization used its voting power “to elect state legislators, sheriffs, judges, and other local and state officials.” At that time, the Klan controlled the city governments of Dallas, Fort Worth and Wichita Falls, and likely held a majority in the state House of Representatives.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are five active KKK chapters in Texas. And this summer, the Sons of Confederate Veterans is holding its annual summer youth camp in Clifton, Texas. The Sons of Confederate Veterans is a hate group which, according to Ed Sebesta, a researcher on the neo-Confederate movement, defends and glorifies the Klan as heroes and a benevolent, patriotic organization.

In a recent report, The Texas Tribune identified 28 public schools in Texas named after Confederate leaders. Of these, only five are majority white. Overall, students of color comprise 70 percent of public school enrollment throughout the state, according to data from the Texas Education Agency. Yet, the education of these children does not reflect their diversity, but rather amounts to a miseducation based on a whitewashing of history and racial revisionism.

Last month, Texas governor Greg Abbott selected Donna Bahrorich–a religious fundamentalist who homeschooled her  three sons before they attended private school, and never enrolled them in public school– as chair of the board. The board has also come under fire for approving textbooks which deny evolution and climate change, promote the notion that U.S. democracy was inspired by Moses and Solomon, and claim Black schools were only “sometimes” lower in quality than white schools during segregation.

In Texas, white conservatives have introduced their own interpretation of history to Latino and Black children who make up the majority of the Texas public school system, one that erases the highly racialized history of this nation.

George W. Bush once said: “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?”

In Texas, the answer is no.

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