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Lies My Alabama History Book Told Me - Part 1 "Slavery as social security"

by: countrycat

Mon Jan 24, 2011 at 18:41:29 PM CST

Don't you wonder where some of the TEA Party "patriots" and holdover States Rights' Dixiecrats get some of their unusual ideas about both the Constitution and the causes of the Civil War?  Wonder no more.  A lot of your fellow citizens (aged 50+) learned it in their Alabama History books.Alabama history for schools by Charles Summersell

I recently happened upon a copy of Charles Grayson Summersell's 1961 textbook: Alabama History for Schools. While thumbing through the text, I was introduced to a totally alternate reality: one that should have been totally discarded a LONG time ago.

It's a world where benevolent Alabama slave owners treated slaves better than "Northern slave traders," slaves received "the very best medical care," were covered by an early version of Social Security, secession was forced on the South by the "vocal minority of abolitionists" in the North, and those Southern secessionists were merely upholding their rights under the US Constitution.

Swear to God.  This book is jaw dropping in its worldview.  Even scarier - it was taught in schools in my lifetime.  Daddycat recognized it as the textbook he had in 9th grade in Madison County in the late 1960's!

I can't help but think of this text when I read about right wing and TEA Party efforts to gain control of state textbook committees and "modify" textbooks.  In Tennessee, they're pretty direct about their goal:

"We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government."
Fayette County attorney Hal Rounds, the group’s lead spokesman during the news conference, said the group wants to address “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another.

They've already taken over the Texas State Board of Education, where a majority believe:

Joe McCarthy was an American hero, white men are responsible for civil rights, and "evolution is hooey."
According to these activists, the Founding Fathers never wanted a separation between church and state, and they’re doing their best to break down the wall by changing the schoolbooks in Texas.

Some of these guys would have LOVED Summersell's book!  On the flip, we'll start our review of the book with Chapter 17:  People During Slavery Times. 

NOTE:  read the other post in this series -  Lies My Alabama History Book Told Me

countrycat :: Lies My Alabama History Book Told Me - Part 1 "Slavery as social security"

If you're lucky enough to have the book, start on page 229 (PDF copy here).  .... I might should say "if you're UNlucky enough to have this book" - except that the value may skyrocket if the TEA partiers start looking for copies to wave as examples in front of publishers and legislators.

"Most of the slave trading ships were owned and operated by Northerners.  While the Negro was badly treated as a rule in the foreign slave trade, he was generally very well treated by Alabama farmers."

Whew!  That's a relief!

Now, on to that hardworking plantation master...

The master supervised both the driver and the overseer.  Occasionally, a master had a pair of binoculars and watched distant workers from the upper story of his plantation house.  Thus the stage was set for some lazy field hand who went to sleep beside his job to get the surprise of his life from the master who had been watching him with the field glasses!

Good thing the field hand was "generally" well treated or something bad might happen.

What's for dinner?  page 232 (PDF copy here)

Slaves occasionally sold chickens and vegetables, and with the money thus earned, bought special luxuries, such as candy, coffee, tea and sugar.  Christmas and other holidays usually brought special feasts.  When crops were laid by, faithful workers were often rewarded with a particular treat, such as a barbecue.  Charles Lyell, the British geologist, told of a party that certain slaves gave for their friends at which they served roast turkey, jelly, ice cream, and cakes.  Such feasting was unusual, however.

Ya think?

What was the healthy, well-dressed slave wearing?  page 233 (PDF copy here)

A few slaves were lucky enough to get castoff clothes from the big house.  In clothing, as in food and housing, the slave enjoyed little or no luxury but suffered little or no want.

In one respect, the slave was almost always better off than free laborers, white or black, of the same period.  The slave received the best medical care which the times could offer.  There are plantation records which show large sums spent on doctors' bills for the care of slaves.  The ill health of the slave meant a loss of working time to the master, and the death of a slave was a great economic loss.

Geez... sounds like the slaves had better medical care then than poor folks in Arizona get now

In case you missed it, a second Arizona transplant patient died recently after death panel chair Governor Jan Brewer's administration defunded "...certain organ transplants that had been previously covered by the state's Medicaid program" 

Reading Alabama History For Schools, one is left to wonder what those abolitionists were whining about.  After all, on page 233, we find this reassuring statement:

With all the drawbacks of slavery, it should be noted that slavery was the earliest form of social security in the United States.  It was the legal responsibility of the master to take care of aged workers.
It is true that the average ages to which slaves lived were less than those of the whites.  But the difference was not great, and a similar difference exists between the races today.

Coming soon.... Part 2 - "Why Slavery Wasn't So Bad."

After all, some "free Negroes themselves owned slaves!"


ps... interesting historical footnote: there is a history award and a scholarship at the University of Alabama in the author's honor:

Charles Grayson Summersell Award for Most Distinguished Undergraduate History Student.
Established in 1974, this award is given annually to the most distinguished under-graduate student in history. This award carries a monetary prize.

Charles Grayson Summersell Memorial Scholarships. 
Established in 1988 by Frances S. Summersell in honor of her husband, Dr. Charles Grayson Summersell, these scholarships are awarded to juniors and seniors majoring in history. Academic merit is the primary criterion. Students must be nominated by faculty. This award carries a monetary prize. 

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I'm aghast! (4.00 / 2)

Pretty much everybody over 50 who grew up in Alabama got their Alabama history from this book or possibly from something even worse -- more revisionist, if that is possible.

It explains a hell of a lot of the racial attitudes we encounter, particularly on the part of older folks.

The Social Security thing is mind boggling.  People really believed that????  WTF kind of education indoctrination did it take to prepare kids to swallow stories like that?

Work harder and work smarter!

No wonder so many people (4.00 / 3)

Seem to think Gone With the Wind was a documentary...

This reminds me of how the Soviets re-worked history books to suit the Party's goals.  Looks like the Confederates beat them to it by fifty years or so.

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
- John Adams

By the way, I heartlily recommend (4.00 / 2)
Lies my Teacher Told Me to everyone interested to find out how much BS you were stuffed with as a child...

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
- John Adams

Thank goodness (4.00 / 3)
Daddy was in the Air Force and I didn't have this text book.  No wonder we "celebrate" Robert E Lee day.

This just explains so much (4.00 / 1)
Otherwise nice, reasonable people who will tell you flat out -- not joking -- that black people should be thankful their ancestors were slaves.  I've always assumed there was lead or mercury in the water or something ... but it turns out there was just propaganda in the schools.

Work harder and work smarter!

[ Parent ]
Did you go to a school on the base? (4.00 / 2)
I don't know if the military still has schools on major bases and ports.  I think most of the Army folks in Huntsville are sending thier children to Huntsville, Madison, or Madison County schools.  Could be wrong about this...

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
- John Adams

[ Parent ]
Some of both.... (4.00 / 2)
On base several times, but predominantly off-base.  One of the blessings of being a military brat is that I always went to school with different kinds of people, Daddy always worked with different kinds of people who he introduced to the family.

[ Parent ]
Look at the year of publication - 1961 (4.00 / 2)

This was right at the height of "Massive Resistance" being mounted across the South against the implementation of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

In my opinion, this book was part of a concerted propaganda effort, going all the way back to Appomatox, to rehabilitate the Confederate slave state.

Anyone who gets the award or the scholarship should be called out as a recipient of the "Charles Grayson Summersell Slavery Defense Award".  Because that is what it is.

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
- John Adams

"Slavery Defense Award" (4.00 / 2)
Agreed, except that perhaps the award should be paid in Confederate dollars!

[ Parent ]
Speaking of Alabama History, I'm wondering, (2.67 / 3)

when will Alabama stop honoring traitors and white supremacists as heroes worthy of a holiday? Exactly what did Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee do for Alabama except cause suffering?

 Why does the miscegenation clause remain in Alabama's constitution? Is white supremacist ideology actually a political platform in Alabama?

Do the majority of voting citizens in Alabama not realize the historical connotation of state rights? Why did Governor Bentley or his campaign officials refuse to answer my questions concerning his state rights platform and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act?


I have to assume (4.00 / 1)

those are all rhetorical questions?  :-)

Funny, I didn't know until high school that Jeff Davis & Robert E. Lee's birthday's were state holidays.  My mother was a teacher, but the schools didn't get the day off.  

But one day a close friend mentioned that her mother, a state employee, was off work.  I asked why: "Why it's Jefferson Davis' birthday!"

This textbook is certainly propoganda and I think a lot of people have internalized the message.  Unfortunately, that number may well include many in our state government!

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]
Looks like the anti-miscegenation law was repealed (3.75 / 4)
... in 2000 (wow, a whole decade ago): Alabama removes ban on interracial marriage

The textbook is awful, but I would be careful to lay at its feet (if textbooks have feet) the blame for a host of attitudes.  It is a symptom, a means of propagating a viewpoint, but it is not the origin of the viewpoint.  The textbook was chosen by school officials and promoted by viewpoint advocates.  As has been noted, we see this kind of crap going on all over: Texas revisionist history; Kansas and Texas and Pennsylvania battles over the teaching of science.  In those cases, it's obvious the people are to blame for demanding unreasonable textbooks; the textbooks are not blamed for existing.

Thank goodness California, with its very large textbook-buying clout, has publicly resolved not to buy any textbook that was written to conform to the Texas anti-science guidelines.  I wish more states would do that.

Hooray for California! (4.00 / 2)

I didn't know that about California... whew!

Of course, if our textbook committee gets to pick between Texas and CA-approved books, I'm pretty sure I know which they'll pick.

You're exactly right: the textbook reflected the prevailing attitudes of adults, but the reason for choosing the text (IMO) was to make sure those same attitudes were inculcated into the youth.  They were using the schools to reinforce the beliefs of the family and larger community.

Now, I know it's not possible to write history without some perspective.  But surely it's possible to write factual history - and this just isn't it.

The author does acknowledge that there were some downsides to slavery - such as prohititions against educating slaves.  But then he undercuts even that slight condemnation by saying the prohibition was "widely ignored" and that lots of young white children taught their slave playmates. 

Now, that's how Booker T. Washington learned to read.  He describes in his memoir how he used to goad white kids into teaching him without realizing they were doing it:  "I bet you can't read that word!"  "Yes, I can!"  "Show me!"

Hang in, y'all.... I haven't even gotten to some of the really good stuff later in the book!  :-)

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]
Miscegenation clause in Alabama's Constitution (4.00 / 2)

The miscegenation clause remains in Alabama's Constitution as a reminder of Jim Crow. If you will remember there was an effort to remove it a couple of years ago, unfortunately the white supremicists won the argument, the clause remains.

Amendment 667 "annuled" the provision, however it remains in the Constitution.

 The clause within our Constitution.
SECTION 102 Miscegenation laws
The legislature shall never pass any law to authorize or legalize any marriage between any white person and a negro, or descendant of a negro.

[ Parent ]
perversions of history (4.00 / 3)

Unless I was present at the time, anything I write about the past is either fiction or a distillation of available primary sources.

Charlie Summersell was my uncle, and he was as honorable man as was available at the time. The textbook, and the accompanying filmstrip, did not coincide with his personal beliefs or historical fascinations (extraordinary documentation of the CSS Alabama, for example). But, like everybody else, he had to pay his bills and survive the University's political agenda. Given the primary sources available at the time, the textbook is relatively progressive. I don't believe that the book is currently used in any school system.

For the record, Aunt Frances funded the University positions with proceeds from the sale of the textbook and filmstrip.

Eventually, many of us grow up and investigate available primary sources for ourselves. I no longer believe the mythology of Columbus' discovery of America or the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving. But, I suspect, the Alabama school systems are still dishing out that baloney.

[ Parent ]
Thank you! Thank you! (4.00 / 2)

That's great information and adds a lot of perspective to the issue.  I'd love to hear more about your uncle.  How did he get tapped to write the book in the first place?  Was it an attempt to get the "best possible" spin on the topic - in spite of the times and expectations of the community?

Your comment does help explain some of the oddities of the book.  I noticed (and will be highlighting in my next post on this topic) that there often seem to be contradictory statements in the same paragraph.  He'd note that a shameful part of slavery was the ban on education, but then explain that it wasn't really followed.  He'd call slavery a bad thing overall, but then show how well-treated and happy "Negroes" were.

He must have been struggling with himself a bit throughout the antebellum, war, and reconsruction chapters.  The terrible thing (IMO) was that the text really makes it easy to gloss over the inherent evil of the system.  And you're right; that's what the community wanted to believe and wanted their children taught.

Are you aware of other texts that were in use at the time in Alabama?  My hubby had Summersell's book and his mom taught from it at a mostly Black school in Huntsville.  She hated it.

And how cool that the book now funds scholarships for kids of both races to study history at UA.

Again, thanks so much for your comment!  Please keep them coming as you think of things to add.

oh.... and your comment about being "as honorable a man as was available at the time" is certainly one I can relate to.  My great-grandfather was as well.  He owned the gin, the local store, and had many sharecroppers.  Now, my mother remembers his wife bitching because he'd give credit to anyone at the store - even the black folk. He certainly wasn't a KKK member.   He was a Mason, in fact, but he did sharecrop and I understand he was a pretty sharp trader at the gin.  For his time, he was a really good guy and his funeral was packed with people of both races.  How people would view him now though, is open to debate.  He died when I was 10 and I wish I had more than a child's memory of an old man who used to buy me unlimited ice cream sandwiches.

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]
Charles Grayson Summersell (3.67 / 3)

Most of my recollection of Uncle Charlie is based on his fervent support of "his" football team and his insistence that the word "auburn" never be mentioned at the dinner table, even if it were a description of hair color. Some things never change. And, yes, he dispensed ice cream as a beloved uncle should.

Family discussion about his work as an author included having the honor to be distributed to all public schools, since there was no history of Alabama available at the 4th-5th grade reading level in the late 1950s, when the 1st edition was published. The big deal was the filmstrip, which he painstakingly assembled from historical archives in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Mobile (and maybe Montgomery, although I don't remember hearing about State archives). If I were a collector, that would be the artifact that would fascinate me today, not the textbook (which you can get from Amazon for about $25).

Since most of his published texts were written at the request of the UA Press, it seems likely that the grade school history was also. He worked on the project for several years, so it seems very doubtful that he equated support for aged slaves with the contemporary version of "social security". His own values shine through, even on the one page you PDFed. To describe a slave as "intelligent" or having "ability as a leader" was still taboo in the culture of the 1950s; so if you need to vilify him for the ills of the past, cherry-pick another quotation.

His basic professional interest was based in the Civil War, particularly the personal histories of leaders of the Confederacy. He also investigated Alabama Native American history, although I don't think any of it was published.

[ Parent ]
I would LOVE to see the filmstrip! (4.00 / 2)

And I found my copy at a used book store for less than $10 fortunately - else I might not have bought it!  I've since found some other history books from the first half of the 20th century and I have to admit that I'm getting hooked on them.

One is a wife's guide to daily life when you're husband goes to WWII.  That's from 1942. Others are Alabama history books, including the one I remember:  "Mounds to Missiles."

And understand that I'm not writing about this to vilify Summersell personally because someone's person-to-person relationships can be far different than their public persona. 

My great-grandfather, "Papa Day," is my best example.  I remember him as a great guy and I know that he was considered a good person in the community.  A black minister was one of the speakers at his funeral and I do recall some low-level grumbling about that in the community - and in the family!  However, he was also a businessman and didn't hesitate to buy land  at a bargain price if the owner had problems or drive a hard bargain at the gin.

The thing is.... that "early form of social security" quote is in the text and Summersell is listed as the author. I understand that it - and other things I'm going to write about - may have made him cringe, but they are there.

and yes, they're there along with the the "intelligent" comments and other text that seems - at some places - to make the overall narrative seem like it's at war with itself.

In a way, I can't help but wonder if that's almost a perfect snapshot of the average white Southerner of the period.  Someone able to respect, depend on, and even love some of the other race even as he/she buys into the overall narrative that ascribes terrible attributes to the black community as whole. 

My great-grandmother could sing praises to several of the black women she called some of her "best friends" and in the next breath rebuke me for mentioning that a black actor was 'good looking" or tell me to stay away from the "black boys" at school or say ugly stuff about black people as a group.

I used to be confused.  Now I know I'm just Southern.  :-)

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]
My pa was and is my hero (4.00 / 3)
I once in my stupid youth called my pa and ma educational sharecroppers. To my credit I didn't hold that opinion long. My father was principal of George Washington Carver High School in Scottsboro, Alabama during the good old days.

I came home from college one Christmas holiday. He said, come with me. He drove us to Carver H. S., two blocks away. We went to his office.  He gave me an Alabama history book.

He had marked pages with strips of paper. I read the pages, yep, the revisionist history approved by folks in the glorious good old days.  He showed me boxes of the books, all but one unopened.

He did not use the books in the school. Instead he contacted a friend at Columbia University. The friend sent him mimeo copy of Alabama history which he made copies for the students of George Washington Carver to use.

My pa didn't sit in or march as I did, but his way was more effective and long lived.  He, my mother, and the other teachers at Carver saved the brains of many black children.

Qui bibit, dormit; qui dormit, non peccat; qui non peccat, sanctus est; ergo qui bibit sanctus est.

I honor your pa for saving the brains of those black children (4.00 / 2)
How sad that no one saved the brains of the white children. Over at the white school the principal no doubt opened all the cases of revisionist history books and caused the children's heads to be stuffed with BS.  What a waste.

Work harder and work smarter!

[ Parent ]
Well, Michelle Bachmann has cleared up all those silly misconceptions (4.00 / 3)
about slavery.  Addressing Republicans in Iowa, she explained that the "founding fathers" had never rested  until they had eliminated all slavery from this nation.  John Quincy Adams comes in for special recognition for abolishing slavery. I suppose this means that the Republican Party was not founded specifically to block the spread of slavery and that Lincoln never wrote an Emancipation Proclamation. There must not have really been a Civil War, to hear her version.

Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten. Cree Nation Tribal Prophecy

From Lies my History Book told me ... (4.00 / 2)
You segue directly to "lies my Republican member of Congress" tells me.  Bachman, Brooks ... they're all the same.  Independently verify anything they tell you because "Thou shalt not lie" has been marked out in their Book.

Work harder and work smarter!

[ Parent ]
It's horrible, but this doesn't surprise me at all. (4.00 / 2)
This sounds pretty much exactly like what my father taught me as a child.  I'm sure the Mississippi History books he studied were similar.

I have posted this before, but will repeat. (4.00 / 2)

I was educated in Catholic parochial schools in Miami. Not a redneck to be seen anywhere, just wimples and habits.  Even so, I was taught that slavery was only a peripheral contributor to the Civil War, which was actually fought over the Federal government's attempt to deny states' rights. We were taught to call it "The War between the States", which is better than "The War against Northern Agression".

It was much later, in college, that I realized that the only states' right important enough to fight a war over was the right to own other human beings. You would think the Catholic clergy, mostly Irish, would have been more sympathetic to the oppressed,rather than the oppressors.

Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten. Cree Nation Tribal Prophecy

in the South during that time, (4.00 / 1)

I think many members of the Catholic clergy were more sympathetic than the general population.  If you discount their unhealthy fixation with sex and procreation, the church has always been pretty committed to social justice - ending hunger, poverty, workers' rights, etc.

And I know that at least a few parochial schools in the south were integrated - yet another reason the KKK hated "those papists."

But wow... you were hearing the 'states rights' talk in Catholic school in Miami.  gee whiz... it was pervasive and pernicious, wasn't it?  And in some places, it still is.

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]



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