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Arkansas History Books Carried Rebel Slant

Historians in the News
tags: Jim Crow, Confederacy, teaching history, Lost Cause



Throughout much of the 20th century, Arkansas schoolchildren were fed a steady diet of Confederate propaganda.

"Fine white men of the South" organized the Ku Klux Klan to prevent "ignorant Negroes" from voting and to "keep them in their right places," John H. Moore wrote in "A School History of Arkansas," which was published in 1924 and approved by the state Textbook Commission for use in Arkansas schools.

Moore, a Baptist minister from Pine Bluff, was a "professional Klansman" when he wrote the book, said Kenneth Barnes, a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

"He was so busy with Klan work that by October 1922 he resigned his preaching job to become a full-time national lecturer for the Klan," Barnes wrote in a book tentatively titled "The Ku Klux Klan in 1920s Arkansas: How White Protestant Nationalism Controlled a State." It's scheduled to be published by the University of Arkansas Press in April.

Barnes said language sympathetic to the Klan could be found in Arkansas history textbooks used in public schools through the 1960s.

In "Our Arkansas," initially published in 1958 and used to teach fourth-grade Arkansas history for at least the next decade, Walter L. Brown wrote that the Klan was formed "to try to scare the Negroes into being good."

On election day, Union sympathizers "herded the Negroes to the polls like cattle, giving them a few coins or some whiskey and tobacco to vote Republican," Brown wrote in the 1958 edition.

Fed up, white Southern men formed the KKK, according to "Our Arkansas."

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Besides erecting statues across the South that have become lightning rods for protest, the United Daughters of the Confederacy had an influence on the history taught to Arkansas schoolchildren.

"The UDC's most long-lasting effect on understanding of the Civil War in Arkansas may have been through its censorship of textbooks," according to an Encyclopedia of Arkansas entry on the "Lost Cause Myth of the Confederacy" by Carl H. Moneyhon, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

"In 1917, it successfully forced the publisher of Henry Bourne and Elbert Benton's History of the United States to send page proofs of their proposed book to the UDC for approval, and the state textbook commission withheld the contract for the book until the publisher made desired corrections," Moneyhon wrote.

"Subsequently, texts used in United States history classes adhered closely to the Lost Cause narrative. Arkansas history texts, in particular, were brought into line, and textbooks used in both white and black schools into the 1950s emphasized the legitimacy of secession, the heroic sacrifice of Confederate Arkansans, and the very limited place of African Americans and white Unionists in the story. Such texts remained in use into the 1960s."

Read entire article at Arkansas Democrat & Gazette

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