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Northern and Western schools followed a different path. Their textbooks about slavery and the Civil War prompted protests from black families and community leaders.


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African American parents and students emerged as the strongest voices in protesting history curricula. Major black newspapers like the Chicago Defender and the New York Amsterdam News regularly covered new developments in the fight.

Collecting Miniature Books

Civil-rights organizations like the NAACP and the Urban League appointed committees to review textbooks and push back on flawed material. They pressured public officials and textbook publishers to present a more accurate and comprehensive view of black Americans in history. In , four years before Trump graduated high school, Albert Alexander, a textbook analyst for the New York City Board of Education, complained that publishers had warped their coverage of the Civil War so their products could be sold in both the North and the South.

In , Irving Sloan, a New York social-studies teacher, published a study for the American Federation of Teachers reviewing how contemporary American history textbooks covered black history. He opened by observing that many publishers had improved their coverage in recent years. Things got worse when students moved past the Civil War. The quality of the textbooks reviewed by Sloan varied. Others received more scathing treatments. One Southern writer suggested that the so-called free laborers of the North would be better off if the North turned them into slaves.

Coming to the period after the war, the Reconstruction era, the authors discuss the condition of the Freedmen. But it remains consistent with much of the tone of this text's treatment of the Negro. Among high school texts, this gives one of the poorest treatments of the Negro encountered in our study. Racist material permeated other sections of the American curriculum, well beyond the field of history.

What Trump's Generation Learned About the Civil War

Board of Education decision. Instead, they offer a window into what students would have learned in a previous era. Trump himself has recently embraced other extraordinary views of that era. After a deadly attack on demonstrators protesting a white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month, he became an avowed defender of Confederate statues. And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? Of course, Trump is far from the only American politician with an outdated understanding of the Civil War era.

In August , a McClatchy-Marist poll asked American adults whether schools should teach that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War. Sixty percent of to year-olds said they should, as did 59 percent of to year-olds and 57 percent of to year-olds. By the s, activist pressure brought about significant changes in how history classes would be taught.

I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it; but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by Legislative authority; and this, as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting. Washington admitted to Lafayette, however, that he "despaired" of seeing an abolitionist spirit sweep the country. He confided to the younger man in that "some petitions were presented to the Assembly at its last Session, for the abolition of slavery, but they could scarcely obtain a reading.

While he never publicly led the effort to abolish slavery, Washington did try to lead by setting an example. In his will , written several months before his death in December , Washington left directions for the emancipation after Martha Washington's death, of all the slaves who belonged to him.

Washington was not the only Virginian to free his slaves at this period. Toward the end of the American Revolution, in , the Virginia legislature made it legal for masters to manumit their slaves, without a special action of the governor and council, which had been necessary before. Of the slaves at Mount Vernon in , a little less than half, individuals, belonged to George Washington and were set free under the terms of his will.

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When Martha Washington's first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, died without a will, she received a life interest in one-third of his estate, including the slaves. The other two-thirds of the estate went to their children. Neither George nor Martha Washington could free these slaves by law and, upon her death they reverted to the Custis estate and were divided among her grandchildren. By , slaves at Mount Vernon were part of this dower property. In accordance with state law, George Washington stipulated in his will that elderly slaves or those who were too sick to work were to be supported throughout their lives by his estate.

Children without parents, or those whose families were too poor or indifferent to see to their education, were to be bound out to masters and mistresses who would teach them reading, writing, and a useful trade, until they were ultimately freed at the age of twenty-five. The slaves would finally receive their freedom on January 1, Notes: 1. Donald M. Joseph E.

Harding and J. Murray, , Metchie J. John C. For Virginia laws dealing with the estate issues and manumission requirements faced by the Washingtons, see The Statutes at Large , Volume V, ed.


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The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington invites readers to explore a variety of topics related to slavery, enslaved persons, and Washington's land. Conversations Podcast Mount Vernon Everywhere! Washington's World Quotes. Digital Encyclopedia Slavery and Family A census of the slaves at Mount Vernon made the summer before George Washington's death indicated that nearly two-thirds of the plantation's adult slaves were married. Learn More.

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Hannah, Andrew Jackson’s Slave | National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)

Slave Owner Various sources offer differing insight into Washington's behavior as a slave owner. Learn More The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington invites readers to explore a variety of topics related to slavery, enslaved persons, and Washington's land. Back to Main menu Center for Digital History.