Meet Juneteenth’s diminishers: Texas Schoolbooks

Texas public schools are arguably the primary source of misinformation about how Juneteenth actualized.  Here are three examples of their current standard lessons:

Juneteenth – June 19, celebrated as the day on which Union General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston and issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing Texas slaves.

Texas History, page R31, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

News of the proclamation spread slowly, but in most cases, Texas slave holders voluntarily complied.

Texas History, page 434, McGraw Hill Education, 2016

During the summer and fall of 1865, Texas roads were crowded with former slaves loaded down with their possessions.

Texas History, page 397, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

The first error should be obvious even to people who’ve never heard of Juneteenth.  The second error appeals to people who choose to dismiss the stubbornness of Texas slave holders.  The third statement’s error is so heavily disguised it could easily slip pass even the most vigilant Juneteenth myth busters.  Ironically, of these three examples, the third statement is the more egregious.

For clarity,

1) The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln, not General Granger. 

2) Most Texas slave holders released their enslaved Africans only after the Union army showed up and forced them to do so.  True voluntary emancipation would have occurred when slave holders first learned of Lincoln’s proclamation, which was much earlier than June 19, 1865.  Furthermore, even after the soldiers arrived, some slave holders hid their chattel for months – in some cases, years – after June 1865.

3) By law, enslaved people could not own property, including themselves.  Therefore, they had nothing of their own to carry on their journey to new lives.  Claiming Texas roads were crowded with former slaves “loaded down with their possessions” translates to “Texas roads were crowded with thieves.”  Rampant lawlessness (primarily theft) was one of the primary reasons why the Union Army occupied Texas after the Civil War, but freedmen were not the culprits.

Yes, it is well documented that some freedmen borrowed a few necessities without asking, but the likelihood of their openly and collectively sauntering down pubic roads “loaded down” with ill-gotten bounty is exponentially ridiculous and wholly implausible.

Here’s the rub. These untruths and other “errors” are required learning for Texas seventh grade students.  Toward that goal, in 2016, the Texas Education Agency adopted three Texas History textbooks.  All three are poetically titled “Texas History”.  They are published by Pearson Education, Inc., McGraw-Hill Education, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.  Their adoptions expire in 2022.

Understanding the broad influence of these falsehoods requires math.  In 2016, when the books initially went into use, there were nearly 400,000 seventh grade students in Texas.  Multiple that by the number of years students will study these books (7).  The total is 2.8 million students.  That’s more people than the entire current populations of Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, and North Dakota combined.  It also surpasses the independent populations of South Dakota, Delaware, Rhode Island, Montana, Maine, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Idaho, West Virginia, Nebraska, and New Mexico.

A diligent search for Texas history textbooks used prior to 2016 was unproductive.  Therefore, the following statement is based on supposition and extrapolation.  It is highly unlikely that information published prior to 2016 was more accurate than the current falsehoods.  For the opposite to be true, the three publishing companies, Texas State Board of Education and Texas Education Agency either are equally guilty of academic negligence, or they conspired to deceive.  Since no proof of either option is evident, it is a safe bet that Texas history books published after 1979 included incorrect information about Juneteenth. 

1979 is the starting point for this claim because that was when the Texas legislature declared Emancipation Day a state holiday.  It should not be surprising if prior to then, textbooks did not mention the popular celebration.  Based on calculations of applicable U.S. Census data, between 1980 and 2015 inclusive, there were approximately 10.5 million seventh graders.  Even if only 10% of them bothered to read their textbooks, that equates to 1.5 million mis-educated students.

So, why is this important?  Imagine promoting these stupid ideas:

  1. When the British realized the colonists were unhappy, they voluntarily left. (wrong)
  2. July 4th is celebrated as the day when Native Americans wrote the Declaration of Independence for the colonists. (wrong)
  3. During the summer of 1776 some guys thought it would be fun to create a nation, so they did. (wrong)

If those ideas unacceptable, why should misinformation about America’s second independence day be tolerable?  One Texas administrator claimed Juneteenth probably is rarely taught in schools because it occurs during the summer.  Meaning, teachers do not have an opportunity to acknowledge Juneteenth similar to how they recognize holidays occurring during the schoolyear.  That logic sounds nice, but it ignores that fact that Juneteenth comes fifteen days before the Fourth of July.

Texas public schools are not the only distributors of bogus information.  But thus far, they are the front runners in the race to emancipation ignorance.

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