Textbook controversy over claim that blacks fought for the Confederacy

A fourth-grade textbook being used in some Virginia schools claims that "thousands" of black soldiers fought for the Confederacy.

A textbook being used in some Virginia schools states that Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson commanded two battalions of black soldiers.

Thousands of black soldiers fought for the Confederacy, including two battalions under Southern Gen. Stonewall Jackson. Really? No, absolutely not, most historians seem to agree. But a textbook being used in some of Virginia's fourth-grade classrooms reports this as fact.

“Our Virginia: Past and Present" by Joy Masoff has touched off a discussion on how textbooks are selected for classroom use. According to The Washington Post, "Our Virginia" was adopted by schools across the state last month. Masoff, who is not a trained historian, says she found the information about black Confederate soldiers on the Internet.

The story could also be considered a cautionary tale for any and all researchers in the Digital Era. When the Post checked the links used by Masoff for her research, all three could be traced back to a group called the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. SCV is a group with a clear point of view. Their website declares that “the preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight the Second American Revolution.” The group's chief historian, Charles Kelly Barrow, is also the coauthor of a book called "Black Confederates."

Virginia is one of 20 states that use a review process before adopting textbooks, relying on committees of teachers and other educators to review submitted textbooks for content, accuracy, and bias."Our Virginia" is one of three state-approved textbooks that may be used in the fourth grade to teach Virginia's history. The book had been ruled "accurate and unbiased" by a committee of content specialists and teachers.

In this case, however, this statement – which some local historians have called “wildly inaccurate" and "blatantly false" – somehow slipped through.

The Virginia Department of Education has stated that the book is flawed and is advising teachers using the book not to repeat the error to students.

"Just because a book is approved doesn't mean the Department of Education endorses every sentence," said department spokesman Charles Pyle, who agreed that the book's claims of black Confederate soldiers were "outside mainstream Civil War scholarship."

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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