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I came across this in my Googling yesterday. Haven't read it all but
have already found it interesting enough to post here:


First Thanksgiving,
Red Eyes,
Invisibility of Racism
excerpted from the book
Lies My Teacher Told Me
Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
by James W. Loewen
Touchstone Books, 1995, paper

Michael Dorris
Considering that virtually none of the standard fare surrounding
Thanksgiving contains an ounce of authenticity, historical accuracy, or
cross-cultural perception, why is it so apparently ingrained? Is it
necessary to the American psyche to perpetually exploit and debase its
victims in order to justify its history?

Howard Simpson

The Europeans were able to conquer America not because of their military
genius, or their religious motivation, or their ambition, or their
greed. They conquered it by waging unpremeditated biological warfare.

The scarcity of disease in the Americas was also partly attributable to
the basic hygiene practiced by the region's inhabitants. Residents of
northern Europe and England rarely bathed, believing it unhealthy, and
rarely removed all of their clothing at one time, believing it immodest.
The Pilgrims smelled bad to the Indians. Squanto "tried, without
success, to teach them to bathe," according to Feenie Ziner, his biographer.

For all these reasons, the inhabitants of North and South America (like
Australian aborigines and the peoples of the far-flung Pacific islands)
were "a remarkably healthy race" before Columbus. Ironically, their very
health proved their undoing, for they had built up no resistance,
genetically or through childhood diseases, to the microbes that
Europeans and Africans would bring to them.

In 1617, just before the Pilgrims landed, the process started in
southern New England. For decades, British and French fishermen had
fished off the Massachusetts coast. After filling their hulls with cod,
they would go ashore to lay in firewood and fresh water and perhaps
capture a few Indians to sell into slavery in Europe. It is likely that
these fishermen transmitted some illness to the people they met. The
plague that ensued made the Black Death pale by comparison. Some
historians think the disease was the bubonic plague; others suggest that
it was viral hepatitis, smallpox, chicken pox, or influenza.

Within three years the plague wiped out between 90 percent and 96
percent of the inhabitants of coastal New England. The Indian societies
lay devastated. Only "the twentieth person is scarce left alive," wrote
Robert Cushman, a British eyewitness, recording a death rate unknown in
all previous human experience. Unable to cope with so many corpses, the
survivors abandoned their villages and fled, often to a neighboring
tribe. Because they carried the infestation with them, Indians died who
had never encountered a white person. Howard Simpson describes what the
Pilgrims saw: "Villages lay in ruins because there was no one to tend
them. The ground was strewn with the skulls and the bones of thousands
of Indians who had died and none was left to bury them."

During the next fifteen years, additional epidemics, most of which we
know to have been smallpox, struck repeatedly. European Americans also
contracted smallpox and the other maladies, to be sure, but they usually
recovered, including, in a later century, the "heavily pockmarked George
Washington." Native Americans usually died. The impact of the epidemics
on the two cultures was profound. The English Separatists, already
seeing their lives as part of a divinely inspired morality play, found
it easy to infer that God was on their side. John Winthrop, governor of
the Massachusetts Bay Colony, called the plague "miraculous." In 1634 he
wrote to a friend in England: "But for the natives in these parts, God
hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them
are swept away by the smallpox which still continues among them. So as
God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in
these parts, being in all not 50, have put themselves under our
protection ', God the Original Real Estate Agent!

Many Indians likewise inferred that their god had abandoned them. Robert
Cushman reported that "those that are left, have their courage much
abated, and their countenance is dejected, and they seem as a people
affrighted." After a smallpox epidemic the Cherokee "despaired so much
that they lost confidence in their gods and the priests destroyed the
sacred objects of the tribe." 25 After all, neither Indians nor Pilgrims
had access to the germ theory of disease. Indian healers could supply no
cure; their medicines and herbs offered no relief. Their religion
provided no explanation. That of the whites did. Like the Europeans
three centuries before them, many Indians surrendered to alcohol,
converted to Christianity, or simply killed themselves.

These epidemics probably constituted the most important geopolitical
event of the early seventeenth century. Their net result was that the
British, for their first fifty years in New England, would face no real
Indian challenge.

The very death rates that some historians and geographers now find I
hard to believe, the Pilgrims knew to be true. For example, William
Bradford described how the Dutch, rivals of Plymouth, traveled to an
Indian village in Connecticut to trade. "But their enterprise failed,
for it pleased God to afflict these Indians with such a deadly sickness,
that out of 1,000, over 950 of them died, and many of them lay rotting
above ground for want of burial . . ." This is precisely the 95 percent
mortality that McEvedy rejected. On the opposite coast, the Native
population of California sank from 300,000 in 1769 (by which time it had
already been cut in half by various Spanish-borne diseases) to 30,000 a
century later, owing mainly to the gold rush, which brought "disease,
starvation, homicide, and a declining birthrate."

For a century after Catlin, historians and anthropologists "overlooked"
the evidence offered by the Pilgrims and other early chroniclers.
Beginning with P. M. Ashburn in 1947, however, research has established
more accurate estimates based on careful continent-wide compilations of
small-scale studies of first contact and on evidence of early plagues.
Most current estimates of the precontact population of the United States
and Canada range from ten to twenty million.

After contact with Europeans and Africans, Indian societies changed
rapidly. Native Americans took into their cultures not only guns,
blankets, and kettles, but also new foods, ways of building houses, and
ideas from Christianity. Most American history textbooks tell about the
changes in only one group, the Plains Indians. Eight of the twelve
textbooks I surveyed mention the rapid efflorescence of this colorful
culture after the Spaniards introduced the horse to the American West.
It is an exhilarating example of syncretism-blending elements of two
different cultures to create something new.

The transformation in the Plains cultures, however, was only the tip of
the cultural-change iceberg. An even more profound metamorphosis
occurred as Europeans linked Native peoples to the developing world
economy. Yet textbooks make no mention of this process, despite the fact
that it continues to affect formerly independent cultures in the last
half of our century. In the early 1970s, for example, Lapps in Norway
replaced their sled dogs with snowmobiles, only to find themselves
vulnerable to Arab oil embargoes. The process seems inevitable, hence
perhaps is neither to be praised nor decried-but it should not be
ignored, because it is crucial to understanding how Europeans took over

In Atlantic North America, members of Indian nations possessed a variety
of sophisticated skills, from the ability to weave watertight baskets to
an understanding of how certain plants can be used to reduce pain. At
first, Native Americans traded corn, beaver, fish, sassafras, and other
goods with the French, Dutch, and British, in return for axes, blankets,
cloth, beads, and kettles. Soon, however, Europeans persuaded Natives to
specialize in the fur and slave trades. Native Americans were better
hunters and trappers than Europeans, and with the guns the Europeans
sold them, they became better still. Other Native skills began to
atrophy. Why spend hours making a watertight basket when in one-tenth
the time you could trap enough beavers to trade for a kettle? Even
agriculture, which the Native Americans had shown to the Europeans,
declined, because it became easier to trade for food than to grow it.
Everyone acted in rational self-interest in joining such a system-that
is, Native Americans were not mere victims-because everyone's standard
of living improved, at least in theory.

Some of the rapid changes in eastern Indian societies exemplify
syncretism. When the Iroquois combined European guns and Native American
tactics to smash the Hurons, they controlled their own culture and chose
which elements of European culture to incorporate, which to modify,
which to ignore. Native Americans learned how to repair guns, cast
bullets, build stronger forts, and fight to annihilate. Native Americans
also became well known as linguists, often speaking two European
languages (French, English, Dutch, or Spanish) and at least two Indian
languages. British colonists sometimes used Natives as interpreters when
dealing with the Spanish or French, not just with other Native American

These developments were not all matters of happy economics and voluntary
syncretic cultural transformation, however. Natives were operating under
a military and cultural threat, and they knew it. They quickly deduced
that European guns were more efficient than their bows and arrows.
Europeans soon realized that trade goods could be used to win and
maintain political alliances with Indian nations. To deal with the new
threat and because whites "demanded institutions reflective of their own
with which to relate," many Native groups strengthened their tribal
governments. Chiefs acquired power they had never had before. These
governments often ruled unprecedentedly broad areas, because the
heightened warfare and the plagues had wiped out smaller tribes or
caused them to merge with larger ones for protection. Large nations
became ethnic melting pots, taking in whites and blacks as well as other
Indians. New confederations and nations developed, such as the Creeks,
Seminoles, and Lumbees. The tribes also became more male-dominated, in
imitation of Europeans or because of the expanded importance of war
skills in their cultures.

Tribes that were closest to the Europeans got guns first, guns that
could be trained on interior peoples who had not yet acquired any.
Suddenly some nations had a great military advantage over others. The
result was an escalation of Indian warfare. Native nations had engaged
in conflict before Europeans came, of course. Tribes rarely fought to
the finish, however. Some tribes did not want to take over the lands
belonging to other nations, partly because each had its own sacred
sites. For a nation to exterminate its neighbors was difficult anyway,
since all enjoyed the same level of military technology. Now all this
changed. European powers deliberately increased Indian warfare by
playing one nation off against another. The Spanish, for example, used a
divide-and conquer strategy to defeat the Aztecs in Mexico. In Scotland
and Ireland, the English had played tribes against one another to extend
British rule. Now they did the same in North America.

For many tribes the motive for the increased combat was the enslavement
of other Indians to sell to the Europeans for more guns and kettles. As
northern tribes specialized in fur, certain southern tribes specialized
in people. Some Native Americans had enslaved each other long before
Europeans arrived. Now Europeans vastly expanded Indian slavery.
Colonists in South Carolina paid nearby Indian nations in guns,
ammunition, and other goods, which enabled them to enslave interior
nations as far west as Arkansas.

The Europeans' enslavement of Native Americans has a long history.
Textbooks used in elementary schools tell that Ponce de Leon went to
Florida to seek the mythical fountain of youth; they do not say that his
main business was to capture slaves for Hispaniola. In New England,
Indian slavery led directly to African slavery: the first blacks
imported there, in 1638, were brought from the West Indies to be
exchanged for Native Americans from Connecticut. On the eve of the New
York City slave rebellion of 1712, in which Native and African slaves
united, about one resident in four was enslaved and one slave in four
was Indian. A 1730 census of South Kingston, Rhode Island, showed 935
whites, 333 African slaves, and 223 Native American slaves.

The center of Native American slavery, like African American slavery,
was South Carolina. Its population in 1708 included 3,960 free whites,
4,100 African slaves, 1,400 Indian slaves, and 120 indentured servants,
presumably white. These numbers do not reflect the magnitude of Native
slavery, however, because they omit the export trade. From Carolina, as
from New England, colonists sent Indian slaves (who might escape) to the
West Indies (where they could never escape), in exchange for black
slaves. Charleston shipped more than 10,000 Natives in chains to the
West Indies in one year! Further west, so many Pawnee Indians were sold
to whites that Pawnee became the name applied in the plains to all
slaves, whether they were of Indian or African origin. On the West
Coast, Pierson Reading, a manager of John Sutter's huge grant of Indian
land in central California, extolled the easy life he led in 1844: "The
Indians of California make as obedient and humble slaves as the Negro in
the south." In the Southwest, whites enslaved Navajos and Apaches right
up to the middle of the Civil War.

Intensified warfare and the slave trade rendered stable settlements no
longer safe, helping to deagriculturize Native Americans. To avoid being
targets for capture, Indians abandoned their cornfields and their
villages and began to live in smaller settlements from which they could
more easily escape to the woods. Ultimately, they had to trade with
Europeans even for food. As Europeans learned from Natives what to grow
and how to grow it, they became less dependent upon Indians and Indian
technology, while Indians became more dependent upon Europeans and
European technology. Thus what worked for the Native Americans in the
short run worked against them in the long. In the long run, it was
Indians who were enslaved, Indians who died, Indian technology that was
lost, Indian cultures that fell apart. By the time the pitiful remnant
of the Massachuset tribe converted to Christianity and joined the
Puritans' "praying Indian towns," they did so in response to an invading
culture that told them their religion was wrong and Christianity was
right. This process exemplifies what anthropologists call cultural
imperialism. Even the proud Plains Indians, whose syncretic culture
combined horses and guns from the Spanish with Native art, religion, and
hunting styles, showed the effects of cultural imperialism: the Sioux
word for white man, wasichu, meant "one who has everything good."

African Americans frequently fled to Indian societies to escape bondage.
What did whites find so alluring? According to Benjamin Franklin, "All
their government is by Counsel of the Sages. There is no Force; there
are no Prisons, no officers to compel Obedience, or inflict Punishment."
Probably foremost, the lack of hierarchy in the Native societies in the
eastern United States attracted the admiration of European observers.
Frontiersmen were taken with the extent to which Native Americans
enjoyed freedom as individuals. Women were also accorded more status and
power in most Native societies than in white societies of the time,
which white women noted with envy in captivity narratives. Although
leadership was substantially hereditary in some nations, most Indian
societies north of Mexico were much more democratic than Spain, France,
or even England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. "There is
not a Man in the Ministry of the Five Nations, who has gain'd his
Office, otherwise than by Merit," waxed Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden of
New York in 1727. "Their Authority is only the Esteem of the People, and
ceases the Moment that Esteem is lost." Colden applied to the Iroquois
terms redolent of "the natural rights of mankind": "Here we see the
natural Origin of all Power and Authority among a free People."

Indeed, Native American ideas may be partly responsible for our
democratic institutions. We have seen how Native ideas of liberty,
fraternity, and equality found their way to Europe to influence social
philosophers such as Thomas More, Locke, Montaigne, Montesquieu, and
Rousseau. These European thinkers then influenced Americans such as
Franklin, Jefferson, and Madison. In recent years historians have
debated whether Indian ideas may also have influenced our democracy more
directly. Through 150 years of colonial contact, the Iroquois League
stood before the colonies as an object lesson in how to govern a large
domain democratically. The terms used by Lt. Gov. Colden find an echo in
our Declaration of Independence fifty years later.

In the 1740s the Iroquois wearied of dealing with several often
bickering English colonies and suggested that the colonies form a union
similar to the league. In 1754 Benjamin Franklin, who had spent much
time among the Iroquois observing their deliberations, pleaded with
colonial leaders to consider the Albany Plan of Union: "It would be a
strange thing if six nations of ignorant savages should be capable of
forming a scheme for such a union and be able to execute it in such a
manner as that it has subsisted ages and appears insoluble; and yet that
a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies."

The colonies rejected the plan. But it was a forerunner of the Articles
of Confederation and the Constitution. Both the Continental Congress and
the Constitutional Convention referred openly to Iroquois ideas and
imagery. In 1775 Congress formulated a speech to the Iroquois, signed by
John Hancock, that quoted Iroquois advice from 1744. "The Six Nations
are a wise people," Congress wrote, "let us harken to their council and
teach our children to follow it."

The struggle over racial slavery may be the predominant theme in
American history. Until the end of the nineteenth century, cotton-
planted, cultivated, harvested, and ginned by slaves-was by far our most
important export. Our graceful antebellum homes, in the North as well as
in the South, were built largely by slaves or from profits derived from
the slave and cotton trades. Black-white relations became the central
issue in the Civil War, which killed almost as many Americans as died in
all our other wars combined. Black-white relations was the principal
focus of Reconstruction after the Civil War; America's failure to allow
African Americans equal rights led eventually to the struggle for civil
rights a century later.

The subject also pops up where we least suspect it-at the Alamo,
throughout the Seminole Wars, even in the expulsion of the Mormons from
Missouri. Studs Terkel is right: race is our "American obsession." Since
those first Africans and Spaniards landed on the Carolina shore in 1526,
our society has repeatedly been torn apart and sometimes bound together
by this issue of black-white relations.

Over the years white America has told itself varying stories about the
enslavement of blacks. In each of the last two centuries America's most
popular novel was set in slavery-Uncle Toms Cabin by Harriet Beecher
Stowe and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The two books tell
very different stories: Uncle Toms Cabin presents slavery as an evil to
be opposed, while Gone with the Wind suggests that slavery was an ideal
social structure whose passing is to be lamented. Until the civil rights
movement, American history textbooks in this century pretty much agreed
with Mitchell.

Americans seem perpetually startled at slavery. Children are shocked I
to learn that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.
Interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg say that many visitors are
surprised to learn that slavery existed there-in the heart of plantation
Virginia! Very few adults today realize that our society has been slave
much longer than it has been free. Even fewer know that slavery was
important in the North, too, until after the Revolutionary War. The
first colony to legalize slavery was not Virginia but Massachusetts. In
1720, of New York City's population of seven thousand, 1,600 were
African Americans, most of them slaves. Wall Street was the marketplace
where owners could hire out their slaves by the day or week.

Certainly the Founding Fathers never created one. "Popular modern
depictions of Washington and Jefferson are utterly at variance with
their lives as eighteenth-century slave-holding planters." Textbooks
play their part by minimizing slavery in the lives of the founders ...
authors cannot bear to reveal anything bad about our heroes.
Nevertheless almost half of the signers of the Declaration of
Independence were slaveowners.

In real life the Founding Fathers and their wives wrestled with slavery
Textbooks canonize Patrick Henry for his "Give me liberty or give me
death" speech. Not one tells us that eight months after delivering the
speech he ordered "diligent patrols" to keep Virginia slaves from
accepting the British offer of freedom to those who would join their
side. Henry wrestled with the contradiction, exclaiming, "Would anyone
believe I am the master of slaves of my own purchase!" Almost no one
would today, because only two of the twelve textbooks, Land of Promise
and The American Adventure, even mention the inconsistency. Henry's
understanding of the discrepancy between his words and his deeds never
led him to act differently, to his slaves' sorrow. Throughout the
Revolutionary period he added slaves to his holdings, and even at his
death, unlike some other Virginia planters, he freed not a one.
Nevertheless Triumph of the American Nation quotes Henry calling slavery
"as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistent with the Bible and
destructive of liberty," without ever mentioning that he held slaves.
American Adventures devotes three whole pages to Henry, constructing a
fictitious melodrama in which his father worries, "How would he ever
earn a living?" Adventures then tells how Henry failed at storekeeping,
"tried to make a living by raising tobacco," "started another store,"
"had three children as well as a wife to support," "knew he had to make
a living in some way," "so he decided to become a lawyer." The student
who reads this chapter and later learns that Henry grew wealthy from the
work of scores of slaves has a right to feel hoodwinked.

Even more embarrassing is the case of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson.
American history textbooks use several tactics to harmonize the
contradiction between Jefferson's assertion that everyone has an equal
right to "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" and his
enslavement of 175 human beings at the time he wrote those words.
Jefferson's slaveholding affected almost everything he did, from his
opposition to internal improvements to his foreign policy. Nonetheless,
half of our textbooks never note that Jefferson owned slaves. Life and
Liberty offers a half-page minibiography of Jefferson, revealing that he
was "shy," "stammered," and "always worked hard at what he did."
Elsewhere Life contrasts Jefferson's political beliefs with Alexander
Hamilton's and supplies six paragraphs about "Jeffersonian Changes" of
Federalist policies, noting that Jefferson refused to wear a wig,
repealed a whiskey tax, and walked rather than rode in his inaugural
parade. Life and Liberty says nothing about Jefferson and slavery,
however. American History offers six different illustrations of the man
for us to admire but makes no mention of his slaveholding. The Challenge
of Freedom mentions Jefferson on sixteen different pages but never in
the context of slavery.

Textbooks stress that Jefferson was a humane master, privately tormented
by slavery and opposed to its expansion, not the type to destroy
families by selling slaves. In truth, by 1820 Jefferson has become an
ardent advocate of the expansion of slavery to the western territories.
And he never let his ambivalence about slavery affect his private life.
Jefferson was an average master who had his slaves whipped and sold into
the Deep South as examples, to induce other slaves to obey. By 1822,
Jefferson owned 267 slaves. During his long life, of hundreds of
different slaves he owned, he freed only three, and five more at his
death -all blood relatives of his.

Another textbook tactic to minimize Jefferson's slaveholding is to admit
it but emphasize that others did no better. "Jefferson revealed himself
as a man of his times," states Land of Promise. Well, what were those
times? Certainly most white Americans in the 1770s were racist. Race
relations were in flux, however, due to the Revolutionary War and to its
underlying ideology about the rights of mankind that Jefferson, among
others, did so much to spread. Five thousand black soldiers fought
alongside whites in the Continental Army, "with courage and skill,"
according to Triumph of the American Nation. In reality, of course, some
fought "with courage and skill," like some white recruits, and some
failed to fire their guns and ran off, like some white recruits. But
because these men fought in integrated units for the most part and
received equal pay, their existence in itself helped decrease white racism.

Moreover, the American Revolution is one of those moments in our history
when the power of ideas made a real difference. "In contending for the
birthright of freedom," said a captain in the army, "we have learned to
feel for the bondage of others." Abigail Adams wrote her husband in 1774
to ask how we could "fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and
plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have."
The contradiction between his words and his slaveowning embarrassed
Patrick Henry, who offered only a lame excuse-"I am drawn along by the
general inconvenience of living here without them"-and admitted, "I will
not, I cannot justify it." Other options were available to planters.
Some, including George Washington valued consistency more than Henry or
Jefferson and freed their slaves outright or at least in their wills.
Other slaveowners freed their male slaves to fight in the colonial army,
collecting a bounty for each one who enlisted. In the first two decades
after the Revolution, the number of free blacks in Virginia soared
tenfold, from 2,000 in 1780 to 20,000 in 1800. Most Northern states did
away with slavery altogether. Thus Thomas Jefferson lagged behind many
whites of his times in the actions he took with regard to slavery.

Manumission gradually flagged, however, because most of the white
Southerners who, like Jefferson, kept their slaves, grew rich. Their
neighbors thought well of them, as people often do of those richer than
themselves. To a degree the ideology of the upper class became the
ideology of the whole society, and as the Revolution receded, that
ideology increasingly justified slavery. Jefferson himself spent much of
his slave-earned wealth on his mansion at Monticello and on books that
he later donated to the University of Virginia; these expenditures
became part of his hallowed patrimony, giving history yet another reason
to remember him kindly.

Other views are possible, however. In 1829, three years after
Jefferson's death, David Walker, a black Bostonian, warned members of
his race that they should remember Jefferson as their greatest enemy.
"Mr. Jefferson's remarks respecting us have sunk deep into the hearts of
millions of whites, and never will be removed this side of eternity."
For the next hundred years, the open white supremacy of the Democratic
Party, Jefferson's political legacy to the nation, would bear out the
truth of Walker's warning.

Textbooks are in good company: the Jefferson Memorial, too, whitewashes
its subject. On its marble walls a carved panel proclaims Jefferson's
boast, "I have sworn eternal hostility against every form of tyranny
over the mind of men," without ever mentioning his participation in
racial slavery. Perhaps asking a marble memorial to tell the truth is
demanding too much. Should history textbooks similarly be a shrine,
however? Should they encourage students to worship Jefferson? Or should
they help students understand him, wrestle with the problems he wrestled
with, grasp his accomplishments, and also acknowledge his failures?

The idealistic spark in our Revolution, which caused Patrick Henry such
verbal discomfort, at first made the United States a proponent of
democracy around the world. However, slavery and its concomitant ideas,
which legitimated hierarchy and dominance, sapped our Revolutionary
idealism. Most textbooks never hint at this clash of ideas, let alone at
its impact on our foreign policy.

After the Revolution, many Americans expected our example would inspire
other peoples. It did. Our young nation got its first chance to help in
the 1790s, when Haiti revolted against France. Whether a president owned
slaves seems to have determined his policy toward the second independent
nation in the hemisphere. George Washington did, so his administration
loaned hundreds of thousands of dollars to the French planters in Haiti
to help them suppress their slaves. John Adams did not, and his
administration gave considerable support to the Haitians. Jefferson's
presidency marked a general retreat from the idealism of the Revolution.
Like other slaveowners, Jefferson preferred a Napoleonic colony to a
black republic in the Caribbean. In 1801 he reversed U.S. policy toward
Haiti and secretly gave France the go-ahead to reconquer the island. In
so doing, the United States not only betrayed its heritage, but also
acted against its own self-interest. For if France had indeed been able
to retake Haiti, Napoleon would have maintained his dream of an American
empire. The United States would have been hemmed in by France to its
west, Britain to its north, and Spain to its south. But planters in the
United States were scared by the Haitian Revolution. They thought it
might inspire slave revolts here (which it did). When Haiti won despite
our flip-flop, the United States would not even extend it diplomatic
recognition, lest its ambassador inflame our slaves "by exhibiting in
his own person an example of successful revolt," in the words of a
Georgia senator. Five of the twelve textbooks mention how Haitian
resistance led France to sell us its claim to Louisiana, but none tells
of our flip-flop. Indeed, no textbook ever makes any connection between
slavery and U.S. foreign policy.

Racial slavery also affected our policy toward the next countries in the
Americas to revolt, Spain's colonies. Haiti's example inspired them to
seek independence, and the Haitian government gave Simon Bolivar direct
aid. Our statesmen were ambivalent, eager to help boot a European power
out of the hemisphere but worried by the racially mixed rebels doing the
booting. Some planters wanted our government to replace Spain as the
colonial power, especially in Cuba. Jefferson suggested annexing Cuba.
Fifty years later, diplomats in the Franklin Pierce administration
signed the Ostend Manifesto, which proposed that the United States buy
or take the island from Spain. Slaveowners, still obsessed with Haiti as
a role model, thus hoped to prevent Cuba's becoming a second Haiti, with
"flames [that might] extend to our own neighboring shores," in the words
of the Manifesto. In short, slavery prompted the United States to have
imperialist designs on Latin America rather than visions of democratic
liberation for the region.

Slavery affected our foreign policy in still other ways. The first
requirement of a slave society is secure borders. We do not like to
think of the United States as a police state, a nation like East Germany
that people had to escape from, but the slaveholding states were just
that. Indeed, after the Dred Scott decision in 1857, which declared "A
Negro had no rights a white man was bound to respect," thousands of free
African Americans realized they could not be safe even in Northern
states and fled to Canada, Mexico, and Haiti. Slaveholders dominated our
foreign policy until the Civil War. They were always concerned about our
Indian borders and made sure that treaties with Native nations
stipulated that Indians surrender all African Americans and return any

The victors of the Civil War executed but one Confederate officeholder,
Henry Wirz, notorious commandant of Andersonville prison, while the
losers murdered hundreds of officeholders and other Unionists, white and
black. In Hinds County, Mississippi, alone, whites killed an average of
one African American a day, many of them servicemen, during Confederate
Reconstruction-the period from 1865 to 1867 when ex-Confederates ran the
governments of most Southern states. In Louisiana in the summer and fall
of 1868, white Democrats killed 1,081 persons, mostly African Americans
and white Republicans. In one judicial district in North Carolina, a
Republican judge counted 700 beatings and 12 murders. Moreover, violence
was only the most visible component of a broader pattern of white
resistance to black progress.

Attacking education was an important element of the white supremacists'
program. "The opposition to Negro education made itself felt everywhere
in a combination not to allow the freedmen any room or building in which
a school might be taught," said Gen. O. O. Howard, head of the
Freedmen's Bureau. "In 1865, 1866, and 1867 mobs of the baser classes at
intervals and in all parts of the South occasionally burned school
buildings and churches used as schools, flogged teachers or drove them
away, and in a number of instances murdered them."

Focusing on white racism is even more central to understanding the
period Rayford Logan called "the nadir of American race relations": the
years between 1890 and 1920, when African Americans were again put back
into second-class citizenship. During this time white Americans, North
and South, joined hands to restrict black civil and economic rights.
Perhaps because the period was marked by such a discouraging increase in
white racism, ten of the twelve textbooks ignore the nadir. The finest
coverage, in American History, summarizes the aftermath of
Reconstruction in a section entitled "The Long Night Begins." "After the
Compromise of 1877 the white citizens of the North turned their backs on
the black citizens of the South. Gradually the southern states broke
their promise to treat blacks fairly. Step by step they deprived them of
the right to vote and reduced them to the status of second-class
citizens." American History then spells out the techniques-restrictions
on voting, segregation in public places, and Iynchings-which southern
whites used to maintain white supremacy.

Triumph of the American Nation on the other hand, sums up in these bland
words: "Reconstruction left many major problems unsolved and created new
and equally urgent problems. This was true even though many forces in
the North and the South continued working to reconcile the two
sections." These sentences are so vague as to be content-free. Frances
Fitzgerald used an earlier version of this passage to attack what she
called the "problems" approach to American history. "These 'problems'
seem to crop up everywhere," she deadpanned. "History in these texts is
a mass of problems." Five hundred pages later in Triumph, when the
authors reach the civil rights movement, race relations again becomes a
"problem." The authors make no connection between the failure of the
United States to guarantee black civil rights in 1877 and the need for a
civil rights movement a century later. Nothing ever causes anything.
Things just happen.

In fact, during Reconstruction and the nadir, a battle raged for the
soul of the Southern white racist and in a way for that of the whole
nation. There is a parallel in the reconstruction of Germany after World
War II, a battle for the soul of the German people, a battle which
Nazism lost (we hope). But in the United States, as American History
tells, racism won. Between 1890 and 1907 every Southern and border state
"legally" disfranchised the vast majority of its African American
voters. Lynchings rose to an all-time high. In 1896 the Supreme Court
upheld segregation in Plessy v Ferguson. No textbook explains the
rationale of segregation, which is crucial to understanding its
devastating effect on black and white psyches.

During the nadir, segregation increased everywhere. Jackie Robinson was
not the first black player in major league baseball. Blacks had played
in the major leagues in the nineteenth century, but by 1889 whites had
forced them out. In 1911 the Kentucky Derby eliminated black jockeys
after they won fifteen of the first twenty-eight derbies. Particularly
in the South, whites attacked the richest and most successful African
Americans, just as they had the most acculturated Native Americans, so
upward mobility offered no way out for blacks but only made them more of
a target. In the North as well as in the South, African-Americans from
skilled occupations and even unskilled jobs such as postal carriers.
Eventually our system of segregation spread to South Africa, to Bermuda,
and even to European-controlled enclaves in China.

American popular culture evolved to rationalize whites' retraction of
civil and political rights from African Americans. The Bronx Zoo
exhibited an African behind bars, like a gorilla. Theatrical productions
of Uncle Toms Cabin played throughout the nadir, but since the novel's
indictment of slavery was no longer congenial to an increasingly racist
white society, rewrites changed Uncle Tom from a martyr who gave his
life to protect his people into a sentimental dope who was loyal to
kindly masters. In the black community, Uncle Tom eventually came to
mean an African American without integrity who sells out his people's
interests. In the 1880s and 1890s, minstrel shows featuring bumbling,
mislocuting whites in blackface grew wildly popular from New England to
California. By presenting heavily caricatured images of African
Americans who were happy on the plantation and lost and incompetent off
it, these shows demeaned black ability. Minstrel songs such as "Carry Me
Back to Old Virginny," "Old Black Joe," and "My Old Kentucky Home" told
whites that Harriet Beecher Stowe got Uncle Tom's Cabin all wrong:
blacks really liked slavery. Second-class citizenship was appropriate
for such a sorry people.

Textbooks abandoned their idealistic presentations of Reconstruction in
favor of the Confederate myth, for if blacks were inferior, then the
historical period in which they enjoyed equal rights must have been
dominated by wrong-thinking Americans. Vaudeville continued the
portrayal of silly, Iying, chicken-stealing black idiots. So did early
silent movies. Some movies made more serious charges against African
Americans: D. W. Grifffith's racist epic Birth of a Nation showed them
obsessed with interracial sex and debased by corrupt white carpetbaggers.

In politics, the white electorate had become so racist by 1892 that the
Democratic candidate, Grover Cleveland, won the White House partly by
tarring Republicans with their attempts to guarantee civil rights to
African Americans, thereby conjuring fears of "Negro domination" in the
Northern as well as Southern white mind. From the Civil War to the end
of the century, not a single Democrat in Congress, representing the
North or the South, ever voted in favor of any civil rights legislation.
The Supreme Court was worse: its segregationist decisions from 1896
(Plessy) through 1927 (Rice v. Gong Lum, which barred Chinese from white
schools) told the nation that whites were the master race. We have seen
how Woodrow Wilson won the presidency in 1912 and proceeded to segregate
the federal government. Aided by Birth of a Nation, which opened in
1915, the Ku Klux Klan rose to its zenith, boasting over a million
members. The KKK openly dominated the state government of Indiana for a
time, and it proudly inducted Pres. Warren G. Harding as a member in a
White House ceremony. During the Wilson and Harding administrations,
perhaps one hundred race riots took place, more than in any other period
since Reconstruction. White mobs killed African Americans across the
United States. Some of these events, like the 1919 Chicago riot, are
well known. Others, such as the 1921 riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in which
whites dropped dynamite from airplanes onto a black ghetto, killing more
than 75 people and destroying more than 1,100 homes, have completely
vanished from our history books.

It is almost unimaginable how racist the United States became during and
just after the nadir. Mass attacks by whites wiped out or terrorized
black communities in the Florida Keys, in Springfield, Illinois, and in
the Arkansas Delta, and were an implicit, ever-present threat to every
black neighborhood in the nation. Some small communities in the Midwest
and West became "sundown" towns, informally threatening African
Americans with death if they remained overnight. African Americans were
excluded from juries throughout the South and in many places in the
North, which usually meant they could forget about legal redress even
for obvious wrongs like assault, theft, or arson by whites. Lynchings
offer evidence of how defenseless blacks were, for the defining
characteristic of a lynching is that the murder takes place in public,
so everyone knows who did it, yet the crime goes unpunished. During the
nadir lynchings took place as far north as Duluth. Once again, as Dred
Scott had proclaimed in 1857, "a Negro had no rights a white man was
bound to respect." Every time African Americans interacted with European
Americans, no matter how insignificant the contact, they had to be aware
of how they presented themselves, lest they give offense by looking
someone in the eye, forgetting to say "sir," or otherwise stepping out
of "their place." Always, the threat of overwhelming force lay just
beneath the surface.

The nadir left African Americans in a dilemma. An "exodus" to form new
black communities in the West did not lead to real freedom. Migration
north led only to segregated urban ghettoes. Concentrating on Booker T.
Washington's plan for economic improvement while foregoing civil and
political rights could not work, because economic gains could not be
maintained without civil and political rights. "Back to Africa" was not

Many African Americans lost hope; family instability and crime
increased. This period of American life, not slavery, marked the
beginning of what some social scientists have called the "tangle of
pathology" in African American society. Indeed, some historians date low
black morale to even later periods, such as the great migration to
Northern cities (1918-70), the Depression (1929-39), or changes in urban
life and occupational structure after World War II. Unfortunately, no
textbook discusses the changing levels of white racism or black reaction
in any of these periods. In any event this tangle was the result, not
the cause, of the segregation and discrimination African Americans
faced. Black jockeys and mail carriers were shut out, not because they
were inadequate, but because they succeeded.

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