The Propaganda of History
By W. E. B. Du Bois
How the facts of American history have in the last half century been falsified because the nation was ashamed. The South was ashamed because it fought to perpetuate human slavery. The North was ashamed because it had to call in the black men to save the Union, abolish slavery and established democracy
What are American children taught today about Reconstruction? Helen Boardman has made a study of current textbooks and notes these three dominant theses:
1. All Negroes were ignorant.
“All were ignorant of public business.” (Woodburn and Moran, “Elementary American History and Government,” p. 397.)
“Although the Negroes were now free, they were also ignorant and unfit to govern themselves.” (Everett Barnes, “American History of Grammar Grade,” p. 334.)
“The Negroes got control of these states. They had been slaves all their lives, and were so ignorant they did not even know the letters of the alphabet. Yet they now sat in the state legislatures and made the laws.” (D. H. Montgomery, “The Leading Facts of American History,” p. 332.)
“In the South, the Negroes who had so suddenly gained their freedom did not know what to do with it.” (Hubert Cornish and Thomas Hughes, “History of the United States for Schools,” p. 345.)
“In the legislatures, the Negroes were so ignorant that they could only watch their white leaders—carpetbaggers, and vote aye or no as they were told.” (S. E. Forman, “Advanced American History,” Revised Edition, p. 452.)
“Some legislatures were made up of a few dishonest white men and several Negroes, many too ignorant to know anything about law-making.” (Hubert Cornish and Thomas Hughes, “History of the United States for Schools,” p. 349.)
2. All Negroes were lazy, dishonest and extravagant.
“These men knew not only nothing about the government, but also cared for nothing except what they could gain for themselves.” (Helen F. Giles, “How the United States Became a World Power,” p. 7.)
“Legislatures were often at the mercy of Negroes, childishly ignorant, who sold their votes openly, and whose ‘loyalty’ was gained by allowing them to eat, drink and clothe themselves at the state’s expense.” (William J. Long, “America—A History of Our Country,” p. 392.)
“Some Negroes spent their money foolishly, and were worse off than they had been before.” (Carl Russell Fish, “History of America,” p. 385.)
“This assistance led many freed men to believe that they need no longer work. They also ignorantly believed that the lands of their former masters were to be turned over by Congress to them, and that every Negro was to have as his allotment “forty acres and a mule.” (W. F. Gordy, “History of the United States,” Part II, p. 336.)
“Thinking that slavery meant toil and that freedom meant only idleness, the slave after he was set free was disposed to try out his freedom by refusing to work.” (S. E. Forman, “Advanced American History,” Revised Edition.)
“They began to wander about, stealing and plundering. In one week, in a Georgia town, 150 Negroes were arrested for thieving,” (Helen F. Giles, “How the United States Became a World Power,” p. 6.)
3. Negroes were responsible for bad government during Reconstruction:
“Foolish laws were passed by the black law-makers, the public money was wasted terribly and thousands of dollars were stolen straight. Self-respecting Southerners chafed under the horrible régime.” (Emerson David Fite, “These United States,” p. 37.)
“In the exhausted states already amply ‘punished’ by the desolation of war, the rule of the Negro and his unscrupulous carpetbagger and scalawag patrons, was an orgy of extravagance, fraud and disgusting incompetency.” (David Saville Muzzey, “History of the American People, p. 408.)
“The picture of Reconstruction which the average pupil in these sixteen States receives is limited to the South. The South found it necessary to pass Black Codes for the control of the shiftless and sometimes vicious freedmen. The Freedmen’s Bureau caused the Negroes to look to the North rather than to the South for support and by giving them a false sense of equality did more harm than good.
With the scalawags, the ignorant and non-propertyholding Negroes under the leadership of the carpetbaggers, engaged in a wild orgy of spending in the legislatures. The humiliation and distress of the Southern whites was in part relieved by the Ku Klux Klan, a secret organization which frightened the superstitious blacks.”1