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Tea Party Groups In Tennessee Demand Textbooks Overlook U.S. Founder's Slave-Owning History

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A person portraying a blacksmith inspects a
A person portraying a blacksmith inspects a "slave" during a re-enactment of a mid-19th century slave auction in St. Louis, Missouri on Jan. 15. Such portrayals of U.S. history have become heated with recent pushes in states like Tennessee and Texas to overhaul how it is taught.

A little more than a year after the conservative-led state board of education in Texas approved massive changes to its school textbooks to put slavery in a more positive light, a group of Tea Party activists in Tennessee has renewed its push to whitewash school textbooks. The group is seeking to remove references to slavery and mentions of the country's founders being slave owners.

According to reports, Hal Rounds, the Fayette County attorney and spokesman for the group, said during a recent news conference that there has been "an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another."

"The thing we need to focus on about the founders is that, given the social structure of their time, they were revolutionaries who brought liberty into a world where it hadn't existed, to everybody -- not all equally instantly -- and it was their progress that we need to look at," Rounds said, according to The Commercial Appeal.

During the news conference more than two dozen Tea Party activists handed out material that said, "Neglect and outright ill will have distorted the teaching of the history and character of the United States. We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government."

And that further teaching would also include that "the Constitution created a Republic, not a Democracy."

The group demanded, as they had in January of last year, that Tennessee lawmakers change state laws governing school curricula. The group called for textbook selection criteria to include: "No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership."

The latest push comes a year after the Texas Board of Education approved revisions to its social studies curriculum that would put a conservative twist on history through revised textbooks and teaching standards.

The Texas revisions include the exploration of the positive aspects of American slavery, lifting the stature of Jefferson S. Davis to that of Abraham Lincoln, and amendments to teach the value of the separation of church and state were voted down by the conservative cadre. Among other controversial amendments that have been approved is the study of the "unintended consequences" of affirmative action.

The board approved more than 100 amendments affecting social studies, economics and history classes for Texas's 4.8 million students.

The influence of the amended textbooks will likely reach far beyond the state of Texas. The state is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks, and many other states adopt Texas's books and standards.

The curriculum changes were pushed through by a majority bloc of conservative Republicans on the Texas school board, who have said the changes were made to add balance to what they believe was a left-leaning and already-skewed reflection of American history.

"There is some method to the madness besides vindicating white privilege and making white students feel as though they are superior and privileged and that that it is the natural order of things," Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas State NAACP, told The Crisis magazine last year about this time. "The agenda being pushed and the ultimate impact intended is to make young people automatically identify with one political party."

A number of groups, including the NAACP, the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens and the Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Education have joined forces to beat back the measures, which they said would have a negative impact on minority children.

The groups sought a federal review of the state's public education and have raised claims that the Texas State Board of Education has violated federal civil rights laws. In a formal complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education, the groups charge that the new curriculum was devised to "discriminate."

The measures went as far as to replace instances of the trans-Atlantic slave trade with "Atlantic triangular trade."

"It is going to be extremely psychologically harmful to African-American young people because they are marginalized in the curriculum," Bledsoe said. "It will require them to be taught things such as the benevolence of slavery and the problems with affirmative action rather than the good and the bad."

"They voted down a motion that requires students to be taught about the terrorism brought about by the Ku Klux Klan and what they did to ethnic and racial minorities, but they turn around and pass a provision that requires the teaching of the violence of the Black Panther Party."

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