Confederacy of dunces suspected in Virginia text book scandal
When her daughter brought home the new history book — Our Virginia: Past and Present — just handed out to her fourth grade class, as in other elementary school classrooms across the state of Virginia, College of William & Mary historian Carol Sheriff couldn’t resist leafing through it. “What she found left her dismayed,” reports a story in the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily.
In particular, she was stunned by the following sentence about the Civil War: “Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson.”
Says Sheriff, “This claim was indisputably factually wrong; it was not a trivial mistake, but one that gets to the heart of what the war was about.”
Sheriff approached the Washington Post about writing an op-ed revealing the book’s stunning misstatement of the facts “as a springboard for addressing larger issues about how we should grapple with commemorating the Civil War,” but the Post couldn’t resist turning the story into a front page report.
The book’s author, Joy Masoff, who, according to the Post, “is not a trained historian but has written several books,” says she found the information on the internet at a site run by the Sons of Confederate Veterans”– “a group of male descendants of Confederate soldiers based in Columbia, Tenn., [that] has long maintained that substantial numbers of black soldiers fought for the South,” and that “also disputes the widely accepted conclusion that the struggle over slavery was the main cause of the Civil War,” two claims regarded as ridiculous by pretty much every scholar and, you know, historian, in America.
Nonetheless, says Masoff, “As controversial as it is, I stand by what I write. I am a fairly respected writer.”
Well, maybe not anymore. Even Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell — who not so long ago was labeled a cretin when he announced April would be Confederate History Month in Virigina — seems to realize there’s something dreadfully fucked up about Masoff’s book. He announced yesterday that “he has ordered a full review of the state’s textbook adoption process,” according to the latest Post report.
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.