The Confederate flag.

The Confederate flag.

Texas textbooks are in the news again. Five years ago, state education officials created a stir when they changed curriculum guidelines to address what some on the board of education saw as a liberal bias. Those changes were incorporated into new textbooks. Now the textbooks are ready for delivery to about 5 million Texas students when school begins in the fall. Critics say the revisions whitewash America’s history of racial segregation and distort the causes of the Civil War. Texas officials dispute the charges. We look at the controversy over teaching American history in Texas and elsewhere.


  • Isabel Wilkerson Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of "The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration."
  • Emma Brown Education reporter, The Washington Post.
  • Robert Hicks Community preservationist and author of "The Widow of the South" and "A Separate Country."
  • Donald McLeroy Former chairman of the Texas Board of Education.
  • James W. Loewen Sociologist and author of "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong."


  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Five million public school children in Texas will get new textbooks this fall. To counter a perceived liberal bias, Texas education officials ordered revisions to state teaching guidelines reflected in the new textbooks. Critics say they distort America's racial history and the causes of the Civil War.

  • 10:07:21

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the textbook controversy, Emma Brown of The Washington Post and James Loewen, a sociologist and textbook critic. From a studio in Atlanta, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson and by phone from Tennessee, author Robert Hicks. I hope you'll join our conversation. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Send an email to Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Thanks you all of you for joining us.

  • 10:08:03

    MS. EMMA BROWNThanks so much for having us.

  • 10:08:03

    MR. JAMES LOEWENThank you. Happy to be here.

  • 10:08:04

    REHMGood to see you all. Emma Brown, explain for us what this textbook controversy is all about.

  • 10:08:13

    BROWNSure. Well, five years ago, the Texas State Board of Education rewrote their social studies standards and those are, as you said in the intro, they are the guidelines for teaching. They wanted to perceive -- correct what they said was a liberal bias in the standards. And the standards they ended up with were controversial on a number of fronts, including, of course, their treatment of slavery and civil rights.

  • 10:08:38

    BROWNSegregation was barely mentioned. The term Jim Crowe doesn't show up in the standards. The Ku Klux Klan also is not named in the standards and so, you know, critics on a number of fronts opposed these standards. But what, you know, one of the big things that came out of that as well was the causes of the civil war were listed as -- very carefully in this order, sectionalism, state's rights and slavery.

  • 10:09:08

    BROWNAnd they were listed in that order, board members said, on purpose to telegraph that slavery was a secondary cause and that is contrary to the historical consensus, if you talk to any scholar. So, you know, standards sound like a very wonky thing, but they have direct impact on what kids learn through textbooks and through what teachers teach.

  • 10:09:31

    REHMSo you had the school board deciding his, but how about teachers? How did they react?

  • 10:09:40

    BROWNThat's a great question because there's a difference between what the standards say and what teachers teach, of course. And so I talked to teachers who said, look, we understand that the state board is political and we understand also that we have to teach what's in the standards because they -- that's what shows up on the test at the end of the year. That's how we're judged.

  • 10:10:00

    BROWNAnd so, you know, they sort of thread that needle. One teacher I talked to said, I teach that slavery was the cause. We read the primary documents. We read the succession articles that say that slavery was a driving cause. But then, I will also explain, you know, some people believe that it was states' rights.

  • 10:10:20

    REHMInteresting. Some people believe. That's very interesting. Jim Loewen, is what Texas has done unusual? Do other states do the same thing?

  • 10:10:34

    LOEWENUnfortunately, Texas is not alone and the reason for that is because all across the country, we all use textbooks. In fact, American history is more dominated by the textbook than any other subject. Now, when I learned that researching my book, "Lies My Teacher Told Me," I was flabbergasted because I would've thunk (sic) maybe plain geometry, how can you, you know, use your parents for plain geometry or use the community or use a library or whatever.

  • 10:11:03

    LOEWENBut no, it turns out -- and it makes sense if you think about it because certainly the U.S. history textbook was the biggest, fattest textbook you ever had in high school and I ever had and it's gotten even fatter since then. So teachers spend more time on the textbooks. And the textbooks, generally, get it wrong, too, and that's not just in Texas. That’s all across the country.

  • 10:11:23

    REHMBut wouldn't you think there would be sort of a standardized history text that every child in America would learn the same things about?

  • 10:11:36

    LOEWENWell, we don't have a uniform curriculum in any subject. We have a batch of textbooks, of course, but it turns out it is pretty standardized. That is to say, ain't but about six of them nowadays, because of publisher consolidation and for the second edition of "Lies My Teacher Told Me," I read them all, all six. And they just about said the same thing.

  • 10:11:57

    LOEWENAnd what they say, coming back to what Emma said, is flatly wrong. They emphasize states' rights first and slavery second. And the problem with that is that we know what the cause is, that every southern state when it left the Union said exactly why it was leaving.

  • 10:12:16

    REHMIsabel Wilkerson, I'll be interested in your thoughts on this.

  • 10:12:23

    MS. ISABEL WILKERSONWell, I think that beyond what is actually taught in a particular textbook goes far beyond just the individual classroom. We, you know, we've been through, we've experienced a tectonic shift in our country in the last generation or two. Civil rights revolution, first black president, marriage equality. And the teaching of history, as it's currently being presented, has not caught up with where we are as a country. And this is actually -- this has huge ramifications for us as we go forward, when it comes to how people vote, when it comes to how people go about their lives.

  • 10:13:02

    MS. ISABEL WILKERSONKnowing the history could've helped, perhaps, prevent some of the misunderstandings, some of the backlash, some of the resentment towards some of the progress that we have made as a country because people have not understood why there were necessary, why we needed to have a civil rights act of 1964, why there needed to be this focus and attention on why there needs to be, say, marriage equality, why the cities look the way that they do as a result of the mass migration of African Americans from the South to the North that created the cities as we know them so that so much of what we look at in our country and around us actually is the culmination of decades and generations of history.

  • 10:13:40

    MS. ISABEL WILKERSONBut if it's not being taught, then we don't really understand the world we're in.

  • 10:13:43

    REHMSo how would you think the reorganization, if you will, of these textbooks could affect thinking about the Civil War and other aspects of American history? Isabel.

  • 10:14:04

    WILKERSONWell, I feel as the -- many of the things that are shocking to me have to do with the complete omission of such things as Jim Crowe. Jim Crowe was a caste system that ruled the lives of all southerners on either side of the color line from the, you know, late 19th century well into the 20th century, almost into the 1970s and so this shaped much of what we see in our country today. And to have an omission to not include that -- of course, the discussion about the role of slavery in the succession and ultimate start of the Civil War, all of these things are major facts of our lives to this day and they impact decisions that are made.

  • 10:14:52

    WILKERSONEven the shooting and the massacre and Charleston has called up these issues that we would like to have buried, but are still with us to this day. And it calls upon a kind innocence about who we are as a country that our lived experience today belies. We are not what we're being taught we are in history.

  • 10:15:17

    REHMAnd turning to you, Robert Hicks. You say there are different ways to look at history. What do you mean by that?

  • 10:15:26

    MR. ROBERT HICKSWell, I mean, if there are different ways to look at history, then we're in Stalinist Russia. Whether you're talking about a right slant or a left slant or we're in Nazi, Germany, those are places where there were never different ways to look at history. Now, my whole point, there is almost nothing to disagree with, anything that's been said so far. You know, I absolutely believe that to leave out Jim Crowe, to leave out civil rights, to leave out all these things out of a textbook is to create some kind of half truth, which in the long run is really any truth.

  • 10:16:04

    MR. ROBERT HICKSOn the other hand, I think that you can make a case -- and I say this very delicately with my co-people on here, but you can make a case that the Civil War was, first and foremost, about slavery. It was. That's why the South seceded. That's the leadership of the South. Now, does that mean that common foot soldier who's now in marble somewhere in some town square was fighting for slavery and the answer is absolutely no any more than the answer is that the guy in -- the Union boy was fighting to free the slaves, either.

  • 10:16:46

    MR. ROBERT HICKSI mean, the leadership of the South drove succession over slavery. If you look at Jefferson Davis' first speech before the Confederate Congress, he says, it's all about slavery. Five or six years later, he's saying it was never about slavery. If you look at Alexander Stephens' first speech in Savannah, he says it's all about slavery. Five or six years later, he said it was never about slavery.

  • 10:17:09

    MR. ROBERT HICKSSo succession, you can never separate succession from the issue of slavery. Again, though, as you're telling the whole story, you have to understand that the overwhelming majority of the people that fought both North and South never even considered slavery as an issue. They just didn't. You read what they're writing. I think they're fighting for Union and the North -- passionately for Union and I think they're fighting for home in the south. I see people shaking their head.

  • 10:17:42

    REHMDo you agree with that, Jim Loewen?

  • 10:17:45

    LOEWENWell, that's true, I think, but in a trivial sense. That is, if we were asked, why did the United States attack Iraq, if we look into individual soldiers, they maybe in Iraq because they got job training by going into the army or they're fighting in Iraq because they like their buddies on each side of them. But that's not why we went into Iraq.

  • 10:18:07

    REHMAll right. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk further and hear from the former chair of Texas Board of Education. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:00

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the textbook controversy in Texas, and Jim Loewen, just before the break, you were saying that there is some connection between states' rights and Jim Crow and that there was, well, say what you were talking about.

  • 10:20:27

    MR. JAMES W. LOEWENWell, the Jim Crow era is our kind of shortcut for what might be better called even the nadir of race relations, this period when we went more racist in our thinking, white folks did, than at any other time. And this was a national matter. It wasn't just Jim Crow in the South. In fact, Jim Crow happened in the North, and African-Americans got thrown out of dormitories and things like that in universities in the North, where they had been perfectly accepted.

  • 10:20:53

    MR. JAMES W. LOEWENBut this is the era then, right about in 1890, when the South, the white neo-Confederate South, flip-flopped in its analysis of the causes of the Civil War and got away with it. And even in the North, the war was often called the War Between the States during this era. Well, nobody, not one person, called it that while it was going on. This is new.

  • 10:21:16

    REHMEmma Brown.

  • 10:21:16

    BROWNI think, you know, the Pew Research Center did a really fascinating survey about four years ago, where they asked people what was the cause of the Civil War. And more people believed it was states' rights than slavery. It was -- I think 48 percent believed it was states' rights and 38 percent slavery. So the narrative, you know, has taken hold.

  • 10:21:36

    REHMNow that's very interesting. I have an email from Deb in Charlottesville, Virginia, who says Texas book orders are so very large, textbook publishers have met the state's requirements. Will publishers produce multiple editions of textbooks, one set for Texas and another for school districts in other parts of the country? Emma?

  • 10:22:05

    BROWNWell, Texas is the second-largest market in the country after California, and so when you talk to publishers, they say yes, we produce, you know, we meet each state's separate standards. But, you know, critics, and maybe Jim will weigh in, would say, well, what's -- publishers are going to make as few changes as they can in order, you know, to save time and money.

  • 10:22:25

    LOEWENI think they meet each state's standards by messing around with what they say in general. So we up here in the North get to choose among books that have met Texas' standards. They don't produce a separate book for Maryland. We are reading Texas books.

  • 10:22:41

    REHMAll right, and now joining us by phone from College Station, Texas, is Don McLeroy. He's former chairman of the Texas State Board of Education. Thanks for joining us, Don. In your view, tell us how this controversy got started.

  • 10:23:03

    MR. DONALD MCLEROYWell, thank you, Diane, for inviting me on your show.

  • 10:23:05


  • 10:23:07

    MCLEROYHey, it really -- I was chairman of the board when we were getting ready to look at our new standards, this is back in 2009, and I had -- I'm a religious conservative, and I had kind of canary-in-the-coalmine standard that I wanted to see how -- what our writing review committees were going to make recommendations to us. So I had this one standard, it was in eighth grade, early U.S. history, and it said the standard was for the students to describe how religion contributed to the growth of representative government.

  • 10:23:41

    MCLEROYSo I was curious to see what was going to happen to that. As soon as I got the first work from our review committees, I went upstairs, opened the packet, turned to Standard 8C in eight grade U.S. history, and they had deleted that. And that's when all -- I said, well, we're going to have some troubles here because it was the younger teachers on the committee that wanted to delete it. Older teachers didn't want to. But that's kind of where we had two views of what history was all about.

  • 10:24:11

    MCLEROYAnd so that's kind of how it all got started, and we had -- history gets to be very complex. But I'll tell you what. I'm -- it's a real pleasure to be on here with Jim Loewen. I have his book right here. I've read his book, and I think he and I must have the same goal because he wants to teach what really happened in history, and that's exactly the goal that I have, including the Civil War and all these other issues.

  • 10:24:32

    REHMWell, at the time you were chairman of the Board of Education, did you believe that teaching standards had become too liberal?

  • 10:24:44

    MCLEROYOh, I did, yes, ma'am. I even made a statement about that. But just like the idea of trying to delete the standard that was the only place in our standard that talked about how religion contributed to the growth of representative government, it had gotten real political. Here's the review committee's wanting to delete that standard. So...

  • 10:25:04

    REHMBut what about teaching of the causes of the Civil War?

  • 10:25:11

    MCLEROYIt's interesting. I'm glad we're having this discussion. For instance, I was looking at our standards that we had for the previous 10 years before we passed new standards. Jim Crow was not included in those, either. There was no recommendation from our review committees to add it. I like to teach it. I think we need to teach as much as we can about that. I think on the -- it's really interesting. In seventh grade Texas history, we have a standard that talks about the reasons for the Texas involvement in the Civil War, and this was written only by our expert review committees, teachers, and it kind of goes along with what Mr. Loewen and the rest of your folks have said.

  • 10:25:53

    MCLEROYIt says the reasons for Texas involvement in the Civil War, such as states' rights, slavery and sexualism and tariffs. So it's a little different order from the one that's in the eighth grade, but they still have states' rights ahead of slavery. So -- but that's not from the state board. We just left just the way it was.

  • 10:26:12

    REHMAll right, Emma Brown, you want to make a comment.

  • 10:26:14

    BROWNWell, it was interesting, you know, I went back, and the power of the Internet, you can go back and watch debates that happened five years ago. So I watched the state boards debate from May 20, 2010, and there was a debate about this order. One of the board members said, you know, I'm not comfortable with this, slavery was the cause of the Civil War, it should be listed first, and Pat Hardy (PH), a member of the board -- they went back and forth, and Pat Hardy said, you know, slavery was not the cause. It was a side issue. So she seemed fairly clear about that.

  • 10:26:46

    LOEWENCan I read what Texas said as it left the Union?

  • 10:26:48

    REHMJim Loewen, go ahead.

  • 10:26:50

    LOEWENWe hold as an undeniable truth that the governments of the various states and of the Confederacy itself, and by that they mean the United States, they haven't formed the Confederacy yet, were established exclusively by the white race for themselves and their posterity, that the African race had no agency in their formation and their establishment and that they were rightfully held and regarded as inferior and dependent race, and in that condition could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. And then they go on at great length. The entire document is about how the North -- Northern states are becoming anti-slavery, and this is an outrage.

  • 10:27:27

    LOEWENSo it is about states' rights in this sense. Texas is against states' rights. So is South Carolina. All of the Southern states, as they secede, are lauding the power of the federal government to make the territories good for slavery, and they are opposing the power of each state in the North and of the territories to keep slavery out.

  • 10:27:52

    REHMDon McLeroy, do you want to comment?

  • 10:27:54

    MCLEROYWell, if you go back and listen to the tape, I'm pretty sure I didn't say anything about -- join in on this because I've always -- at least I don't remember, but I've always been of the opinion that slavery was one of the major causes and especially in all that I've seen since.

  • 10:28:09

    MCLEROYBut one of the things that was really amazing, if you go back to May 2010, when we finally adopted these standards, one of the big debates we had at that time was an economic standard from the eighth grade U.S. history, and it's interesting. It's supposed to explain, this is a Jim Loewen-type question, why did the different parts of the country develop different. And one of the answers is -- it said explain the reasons for the development of a plantation system and the growth of the slave trade and the spread of slavery. Slavery had its own special standard.

  • 10:28:43

    MCLEROYWell, that was from our committees. In January when we had a meeting to discuss it, a move was made to take out the growth of slave trade and put in Atlantic triangular trade, but we kept the spread of slavery. And then there was no debate, no talk about slavery, and then in March we had another meeting. It was discussed. There was no comment about it. And then all of a sudden before our May meeting, they acted like the board was trying to take out the word slavery.

  • 10:29:13

    MCLEROYSo the board put it back in. So it's mentioned. The final reading is the transatlantic slave trade and the spread of slavery, but slavery was always in the standard, so...

  • 10:29:22

    REHMAll right, Emma Brown.

  • 10:29:24

    BROWNMy understanding of that controversy was that, you know, naming the Atlantic slave trade the Atlantic triangular trade was a whitewashing of what had actually happened and so that, you know, the backlash that you experienced as a board member had an impact, it sounds like, on your decision.

  • 10:29:42

    REHMRobert Hicks, do you want to comment?

  • 10:29:44

    HICKSYeah, of course. I mean, I think again we are at the point where we have to say, and textbooks need to say, that secession was driven over one issue. You can't look at any of the articles of secession, whether they be South Carolina's, Mississippi's, Texas, Tennessee really doesn't have them, Tennessee's actually the only state that actually voted, I think, to -- had a popular vote as to whether to secede. The first vote, they didn't -- they didn't win it, the secessionists didn't win. Tennessee chose to stay. And then after Lincoln calls up troops, it flips middle Tennessee, and it does.

  • 10:30:26

    HICKSBut you have to say of course secession was driven by Southern slavocracy leadership, absolutely. Again, although Jim has said it, it's trivial to talk about those who died and why they died, I think that we have to talk about the -- I see him laughing and shaking his fist at me. He's becoming aggressive. Clearly, clearly this is like, kind of a militant leftist. So anyway, so here he is, here we are. Why don't we talk also about the whitewashing of why the Civil War, as far as why soldiers fought from the North? Because the North was so overwhelmingly racist, too. Everyone was. It was just the universal thing. What happens when Lincoln releases the Emancipation Proclamation? What does President Obama's state of Illinois do? They go in, and they vote to make all the free men, men, women and children, the blacksmiths and the farmers and the cobblers and the people who established their lives in Illinois, to make them leave because they did not want this kind of free movement and everything. So it was everywhere. Racism was everywhere.

  • 10:31:42

    REHMAll right, I want Isabel Wilkerson to weigh in here.

  • 10:31:46

    WILKERSONWell, I'd like to say that the debate, this debate over whether the Confederates were fighting over slavery or over states' rights to have slavery, is significant. But I think the consensus is clear. And I think, though, that it detracts from the larger, more meaningful history of the horror of enslavement to begin with, the human rights abuses that occurred for these 12 generations of enslavement, for 246 years, and how Jim Crow was an extension of it that goes into the lifespan of people alive today.

  • 10:32:18

    WILKERSONSo this is so much larger of a question of what was the exact cause, what did this particular -- did the vice president of the Confederacy say in this particular speech. It is significant, and it's important. But I would like to hope that we would look past that and recognize that we're talking about a much larger history that needs to be addressed as we teach students about who we are as a country.

  • 10:32:43

    REHMDon McLeroy, what do you hope that students there in Texas will take away from the newly revised textbooks about the causes of the Civil War?

  • 10:32:59

    MCLEROYWell, I just like this program because this program brings a lot of informed people together, and they've given us a space to...

  • 10:33:11

    REHMBut you haven't answered my question.

  • 10:33:13

    MCLEROYWell, no, what I want them to be able to learn, what was in -- what really happened in the past. If they can learn what really happened in the past, that's what -- that's my goal in history.

  • 10:33:24

    REHMBut it sounds as though...

  • 10:33:24

    MCLEROYI don't -- I never think of anything we did was to try to block that. There might have been one board member talking about where she had been trained or something about slavery was not the main issue, but slavery's included. I don't remember any debate upon the order, but Emma's gone back to listen to it, but...

  • 10:33:44

    REHMAll right, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How do we clear this up? You have listened to the debates, Emma. What can you tell us?

  • 10:33:59

    BROWNWell, I mean, as I said, you know, there was a debate -- it actually happened twice during this standards discussion. Is this really the order we want? Because it seems -- you know, and the answer was yes.

  • 10:34:11

    REHMIs that what it comes down to, the order of the causes?

  • 10:34:15

    BROWNRight, well that -- I mean, my feeling from watching the debate was the board stood by Pat Hardy's comment that slavery was a side issue, and so this should be listed third. And to Isabel's point, I mean, Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan being left out is -- I received an email from a teacher this morning who said, you know, they're not named, but we do teach them. The standard is explain the economic, political and social problems during Reconstruction and evaluate their impact on different groups. So she said that would be where we would teach Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan.

  • 10:34:52

    BROWNAnd, you know, one common issue in social studies standards is that they can be kind of vague. And so, you know, that -- not naming Jim Crow, not naming Ku Klux Klan means that there is a way you could potentially teach that era without getting there.

  • 10:35:09


  • 10:35:09

    LOEWENI think it makes a difference today, that is to say if we believe today that the Confederacy primarily seceded for states' rights, or that it's murky and there were these two or three or four causes, and it's kind of hard to figure this out, then there's nothing wrong with being for the Confederacy today and waving your Confederate flag from the back of your pickup truck.

  • 10:35:29

    LOEWENI mean, anybody who's ever had any issue with the IRS can kind of identify with states' rights against the big federal government, but that simple removes black agency, if you will, that it was African-Americans who were escaping from slavery who prompted the secession ultimately. Every single Southern state complains about the Northern states messing around with the Fugitive Slave Act, not enforcing it like they were supposed to. They're happy with the federal government's attempts to enforce it. So again, they're against states' rights. Well, no textbook is willing to say that, that they're against states' rights.

  • 10:36:04

    REHMEmma, when this battle began brewing five years ago in Texas, former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige got involved, what was his stance?

  • 10:36:20

    BROWNRight, so the criticism didn't just come from Democrats or liberals, and he stood before the board to say you are ignoring our history, and these standards are incomplete. They don't address civil rights and segregation in a complete way. And so he -- you know, that criticism, I don't know that his particular testimony had any particular impact on the way that the debate unfolded, but he was quite clear that these were inadequate.

  • 10:36:54

    REHMJim Loewen, does Texas try to micromanage history more than any other state does?

  • 10:36:58

    LOEWENYes, it does. In general the textbooks and the way that we teach history all across the country tends to miss the forest for the trees and not even teach the trees. We teach what I call twig history. All of the multiple choice tests, for instance, at the end of each chapter, you know, my favorite is what year did the war of 1812 start. Texas does this more than any other state. It brings in Phyllis Schlafly, it leaves out Cesar Chavez and so on.

  • 10:37:29

    REHMJames Loewen, he's sociologist and author of "The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader." We'll take a short break here. When we come back, time to open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 10:40:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about the Texas textbook controversy, and we've got a lot of folks weighing in here. I see many of you on the phone. Here's an email from Mark in San Antonio. He says the fundamental question is why is a group of elected officials who are not subject matter experts and have a religious and political bias allowed to censor our textbooks? Emma.

  • 10:40:41

    BROWNWell, you know, the conservative Fordham Institute here in Washington did a review of standards around the country and dinged Texas as having the most politically driven and distorted history standards in the nation. And so, and they, you know, the guys who wrote that review attributed it to the politicization. So, he says the answer is to get politics out and do what South Carolina does. He says, South Carolina has great standards because it's process is not driven by politics. It's done by experts within the education field.

  • 10:41:16

    REHMIsabel, is that the key?

  • 10:41:21

    WILKERSONI would have to say that I think that there is a gaping hole in how all of us understand our history. I just wanted to share that I, you know, with the book that I've written, "The Warmth of Other Suns," I've had the chance to talk with people of all different backgrounds. And I hear the same response from people after they've read it. And that is that I had no idea. Now, this is history about the 20th century, outmigration of African Americans from the South to all points north and west, fleeing the Jim Crow caste system that we've mentioned here today.

  • 10:41:53

    WILKERSONAnd I spoke to a group of white southern belles in their 70s and 80s in Georgia, and they all said, I had no idea. They had lived through this era. They had not been taught, however, about the history in their own region involving this era and they had not heard the stories of their fellow southerners, who had endured this caste system. And nor did they know, in that respect, their place in that world and the way that this history can help you understand it. And so, my point is that I think all of us have a lot, still, to learn, to fill in the gaps.

  • 10:42:29

    WILKERSONBecause we have not been told and not been taught the fullness of our country's history and how we came to be.

  • 10:42:35

    REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones, first to Mario in Plantation, Florida. You're on the air.

  • 10:42:45

    MARIOHi, Diane. Long time caller. Long time listener, first time caller.

  • 10:42:49

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:42:51

    MARIOMr. Loewen, it's an absolute honor to be on the phone with you. I used your book, I used to tell my students that I had an old and new testament, yours being the New Testament, a lie that my teachers told me. And Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" was the Old Testament. I think that we're talking about a question of empowerment, right? So, American history tends to want to empower those who govern as opposed to those who are being governed. And I want to make just a quick point.

  • 10:43:22

    MARIOWith respect to the Abolitionist Movement, which comes right before, the Civil War, obviously, the very first thing that my eight grade history textbook mentioned was the American Colonization Society. And what they did was, they basically said that the purpose of the Colonization Society was to free slaves, buy back slaves from Southerners and send them back to Africa. And it says that, you know, it was somewhat established in Liberia, but a lot of the slaves rejected it because they felt it was an attempt to strengthen slavery.

  • 10:43:54

    MARIOThe reality of the American Colonization Society was that they were attempting to free -- or free slaves in the North, because they were the largest and loudest abolitionist voice and a major thorn in Southern slaveholders' sides.

  • 10:44:11

    REHMAll right, Jim, do you want to comment?

  • 10:44:13

    LOEWENNo, I didn’t quite, actually, understand that, except thanks for the nice words about my book. I will say that the textbooks until the last 20 years, they did fix this, but until the last 20 years, textbooks actually blamed abolitionists for causing the Civil War. Now, that's a stretch.

  • 10:44:37

    REHMWow. All right, let's go to Dallas, Texas. Olivia, you're on the air.

  • 10:44:45

    OLIVIAGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 10:44:47


  • 10:44:48

    OLIVIAI just wanted to say, Mr. Loewen, my -- I grew up in a very conservative, small town and my teaching, you know, learning of history was very skewed, so when I came to Dallas and went to a community college up here, and my US professor taught us the textbook from Howard Zinn, "A People's History," and she used many passages from your book. And I just really wanted to thank you, because I feel like without learning any of that, I would still be in the dark. And it was a huge life changing class.

  • 10:45:20

    OLIVIAI took it twice, because I loved her teaching methods so much, and she used your book in both classes. And...

  • 10:45:26

    REHMYou must be very pleased this morning, Jim.

  • 10:45:29

    LOEWENThis is a good show, Diane.

  • 10:45:30

    REHMYou should say. Let's go to Farmington Hills, Michigan. Roberta, you're on the air.

  • 10:45:39

    ROBERTAHi Diane. I love your show.

  • 10:45:40


  • 10:45:40

    ROBERTAI'm calling, one panelist, to me, wanted his cake and eat it too, when he indicated that, you know, slavery was not primary, that it was a second or third tertiary matter, in terms of the Civil War. And to indicate that or to imply that when individual soldiers go to war, that when you looked at how they, why they went to war, that that was, you know, that was another way to look at it. And I was so happy that the other panelists pushed back and said, well, that's like asking us to look at the Iraq War, that we look at the individual soldiers.

  • 10:46:21

    ROBERTASlavery was the primary reason. The Articles of Secession make that very clear. No confusion. And as far as history is concerned, not just here in America, but throughout the world, history...

  • 10:46:34

    REHMOh, dear. Lost her. Robert Hicks, do you want to comment?

  • 10:46:37

    HICKSWell, first of all, I'd like to know when the shuttle lands. I in no way said that slavery wasn't the primary -- I said it like four times. And clearly, you know, we gotta find out what she's smoking, because if she missed that part of it...

  • 10:46:52

    REHMI don't think we need to talk about a caller smoking anything, Robert Hicks.

  • 10:46:55

    HICKSOkay. Okay, I'm sorry for saying it. But I, my whole point is that I have been very clear in it that the Articles of Secession, in every state, was about slavery. The leadership of the South was about slavery. And I said that again and again. Now, I do believe, where I think she did hear me right, is I do believe we have to understand why the people fought, and if that isn't part of the history, both in the North and the South, then I think we're failing. You know, it's, that we are failing in.

  • 10:47:30

    HICKSBecause I think it's too simple to say that soldiers went to fight to prohibit slavery from the North or to promote slavery in the South. But I think, when we get back to the leadership of why it happened, it's all about slavery.

  • 10:47:46

    REHMAll right, Isabel, do you want to comment?

  • 10:47:50

    WILKERSONI can only say that I feel that there's so much more to our history than just the decisions made in 1861. I think that we are still living with the after effects of this. We're in some ways still debating the war itself and that we are still living with the after effects of all this, to this day. And I am advocating that we look at the after effect, that we look at the 60 or 70 years of Jim Crow that followed that. We look at the continuing manifestations of the caste system that was set in place during that era.

  • 10:48:24

    WILKERSONThat has resulted in the headlines that we see today. I think it's important that we recognize that history is more than just the dates of battles and the names of generals etched in granite. And the signatures on these articles. That we are living with the history to this day.

  • 10:48:41


  • 10:48:42

    BROWNYou know, I think the question has been raised, why does Texas do it the way it does it, and so differently? And a corollary is why is there no standardized curriculum, which I think you asked toward the top of the show.

  • 10:48:55


  • 10:48:55

    BROWNBut, you know, so, and what Isabel is talking about, you know, using history to understand who we are now, there couldn't be something that is more difficult for our citizens to agree on. I mean, just, we have the Common Core state standards now that are just math and reading, and look at the political upheaval that that has caused. There is so much -- there is a long history in our country of local control of schools and what's taught in schools, and so the, there's just, I mean, there was a try in the 90s to do a national history standard. But it fell apart pretty quickly because of this.

  • 10:49:30

    REHMAnd Jim, you mentioned the Confederate flag. You see a link between the controversy over the flying of that flag and the textbooks in Texas.

  • 10:49:45

    LOEWENYes. I think, if we understood that the Confederacy was for slavery and that it was for white supremacy, underlying slavery, we wouldn't wave it. I give credit to most Confederate flag wavers on that score. They claim they are not racist, and I think we gotta ask them to prove it. In fact, I'm trying to create a campaign to get Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the infamous, you know, Confederate fraternity, if you will, to, this fall, and on campuses across America, burn their Confederate flag on the front yard.

  • 10:50:21

    LOEWENEvery one of them has one. Even if they're a chapter in the Pacific Northwest, they should give them up.

  • 10:50:28

    REHMRobert Hicks, do you see a connection between that flag controversy and these textbooks?

  • 10:50:37

    HICKSAbsolutely. I mean, I think that, again, it comes back to telling history really the way it was. When we deny that secession happened, even though the whole issue should go all the way down to the Civil Rights Movement. I completely agree with Isabella about that, but when we deny that secession happened, first and foremost because of the slaveocracy leadership of the South, demand to protect and promote and enlarge and enhance slavery, then we're denying the truth.

  • 10:51:13

    HICKSAnd I think that a lot of people would probably stop waving the Confederate flag if they truly understood and believed that, in fact, that that was about slavery.

  • 10:51:28

    REHMAll right, to New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Hi William. You're on the air.

  • 10:51:35

    WILLIAMGood morning, Diane. I just wanted to say that you're a national treasure. God bless you.

  • 10:51:40

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:51:40

    WILLIAMAnd I also just wanted to chime in because as a child, I grew up in Henrico County Virginia school system, which some people may know that's basically the greater Richmond area. As you know, Richmond would proudly profess itself to be the capital of the Confederacy. Everywhere you go, there are historical markers and monuments that exalt these generals and moments in history. And as a young man, a boy, growing up there in that environment, you know, you get conflicting messages.

  • 10:52:20

    WILLIAMAnd I had, growing up, I had a great conflict in my conscience, because on one hand, sure, I was a southerner. I loved my home state, and yet, alternatively, slavery is evil. And, you know, how can these two things exist inside your mind? And eventually, you come of age, and you realize you have to reject the one for the other to thrive. And the point that brings this up, regarding your topic today is in school, although officially, I believe that the textbooks had been revised to remove the expression war of Northern aggression out of history textbooks for children at that time.

  • 10:52:57

    WILLIAMThe older textbooks were still available on the shelf in the classroom and in the school libraries, because I read them when I was in elementary school in the mid 70s, in Richmond, okay? Now, when you see something like that, as a kid, it plants a seed in your mind.

  • 10:53:12

    REHMIt sure does. It sure does.

  • 10:53:14

    LOEWENThe Richmond certainly did get it all wrong. I wrote a follow up to "Lies My Teacher Told Me" called "Lies Across America," and Richmond got more entries in that book than any other single, as a matter of fact, they got more entries than any other state other than Virginia itself. However, in the last 10 years, Richmond has made astounding strides in coming to terms with its Confederate past. It is working on preserving and putting up markers about a slave yard, an infamous slave yard that is right near the main street Amtrak station.

  • 10:53:48

    LOEWENIt has put up a monument to the triangular trade. It's the only city in the United States. There's a similar monument, incidentally, in Benin, in West Africa. And in the United Kingdom. So, Richmond is stepping up to the plate.

  • 10:54:02

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Robert Hicks, I'd be interested in your reaction to Jim Loewen's suggestion that the Confederate flag holders take this opportunity to destroy their flags.

  • 10:54:24

    HICKSWell, I'm probably more into the case of let's just put them away. I mean, I don't know about that I'm support the idea of destroying anything.

  • 10:54:33

    REHMAll right. Go ahead.

  • 10:54:34

    HICKSNo, but I do think that I question, when I'm driving down the road, and some kids are waving huge Confederate flags the size of beach towels out of the back of their pickup truck, is what their motives are. I mean, I don't want to be judging them, but I have to at least question their motives.

  • 10:54:53

    REHMIsabel, how do you feel when you see a Confederate flag? What would you like to see done with them?

  • 10:55:02

    WILKERSONWell, I see them as a symbol of terror. I see them as an emblem of decades long, generations long subjugation of millions and millions of Americans, who, by the way, are also southerners. So, when you speak about southern heritage, African Americans are part of that heritage, and that, sometimes, I think, gets lost in this conversation about what is southern heritage and what is southern history? African Americans are deeply embedded and a part of this history that we're speaking about.

  • 10:55:30

    WILKERSONI would, I believe that it belongs in a museum. I believe that we should not forget. We should never forget and this is, and should be incorporated into our understanding of how we got to where we are right now. I believe that they should be, it should be remembered but not valorized. This is a symbol of great terror to many tens of millions of our citizens, and I think that needs to be respected.

  • 10:55:54


  • 10:55:55

    BROWNWell, Isabel has talked about the holes in our understanding of the past. And for that story reported in The Post earlier this week, I interviewed a student from Texas Tech University, and he was part of a group that had gone, they did sort of a video, or they went and interviewed students on the street and asked them three simple questions. And one of the questions was, who won the Civil War? And in the video, you just see over and over, the students answering the question wrong or not knowing the answer.

  • 10:56:20

    BROWNAnswering the south, answering Confederates. Asking which war is that? And he said that they did the video to sort of goad their fellow students into caring more about present day politics as well as the past, given that they're so linked.

  • 10:56:35

    REHMBut if you do not know the past, how can you possibly engage realistically in the present? And that's the question. All right, we'll have to leave it there. Emma Brown of the Washington Post, James Loewen, sociologist and author of "Lies My Teacher Told Me." Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, author of "The Warmth of Other Suns." And Robert Hicks, community preservationist, author of "The Widow of the South" and "A Separate Country." Thank you all so much.

  • 10:57:23

    LOEWENHappy to be with you.

  • 10:57:23

    WILKERSONThank you.

  • 10:57:23

    BROWNThank you, Diane.

  • 10:57:24

    HICKSBye-bye. Thank you.

  • 10:57:25

    REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

Related Links

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows