Reappraisal of Negro Role in History
How america views its past is a recurring theme in the endless stream of analyses of “what's wrong” in this country. It is often suggested that “history is catching up with us”—that the convergence of troubles at home and abroad is exposing myths of American history. “Star-spangled” textbooks, the mass media, and even American Presidents stand accused of having purveyed a false notion of national omnipotence and righteousness.
Historians, who are doing much of the accusing, are themselves on the firing line. War in Viet Nam and the Black Revolution in America have caused them to reappraise old verdicts and assumptions that touch upon current concerns—race, poverty and war. The Negro demands that history books be “integrated” with his achievements, not just his slavery; the New Left historian challenges orthodoxy about the Cold War and American aims abroad. The “consensus” school of American history, dominant in the years after World War II, has given way to that which portrays “conflict”—sectional, ideological, racial—as basic ingredients of the nation's past. “Conflict” historians maintain that any blurring of these issues distorts an understanding of the United States today.
Indications of Racial Bias in History Textbooks
Criticism of written history is by no means confined to academic circles. The most vocal complaints come from black Americans who believe that their past has been misrepresented or ignored. Early in the present century, a leading Negro historian and teacher, Edward A. Johnson, asserted that white authors “studiously left out the many creditable deeds of the Negro.” He said that “The general tone of most of the histories taught in our schools has been that of the general inferiority of the Negro, whether actually said in so many words or left to be implied.” As recently as 1965 another Negro historian and teacher, Dr. Charles H. Wesley, noted in a book with the revealing title Neglected History: Essays in Negro History that what Johnson reported was still common in American schools.