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The University of California at Berkeley’s John D. Hicks, best known for his study of the Populist Movement, described slavery in his advanced textbook, A Short History of American Democracy (1943) as "By and large … a distinct advance over the lot that would have befallen him [the slave] had he remained in Africa." Besides, Hicks suggests, where else could a people so untutored enjoy picnics, barbecues, singing, and dancing? The slaves’ "devotions [religion] were extremely picturesque, and their moral standards sufficiently latitudinarian to meet the needs of a really primitive people. Heaven to the Negro was a place of rest from all labor, the fitting reward of a servant who obeyed his master and loved the Lord. … [C]ohabitation without marriage was regarded as perfectly normal, and a certain amount of promiscuity was taken for granted. Slave women rarely resisted the advances of white men, as their numerous mulatto progeny abundantly attested." Berkeley’s history department recalls Hicks’s enormous influence, classes with over 500 students, and the impossibility of estimating "the number of students whose knowledge of American history has been built on the Hicks histories, but it is certainly an immense number."

That such rabid fiction could pass for history in 1943, or at any other time, still leaves me reeling. But such textbook "history" continued, largely ignoring the work of prodigious African American scholars like John Wesley Cromwell, George Washington Williams, Carter G. Woodson, and W.E.B. Du Bois, until the 1960s when new generations of black and white scholars transformed our understanding of the American past, and the place of race in it.

The way we teach history remains as lifeless as John Brown's body.

full: https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-Scholars-Sustained-White/243053
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