The Use of Social Framework as an Analysis of a Historical Event
A “social framework” is a way that the public perceives a specific event that is ongoing or is being analyzed. Learning how something is socially constructed is by analyzing the primary sources of the specific event one is talking about. Primary sources include newspaper clippings, speeches, government documents, etc.… Social framework determines if a historical event is genuinely bad or genuinely good, but sometimes social frameworks of historical events are not completely true. When analyzing traditional history, generally speaking, top-down, it’s difficult to see what is going on at the smaller more local levels of society. Put this way, traditional history is usually analyzed from the top-down perspective, an analogy would be looking at a battle and looking at the battle from the general’s perspective. So an alternate way to determine the social framework would be taking the social-historical route where when analyzing an event, again back to the battle example, one can see the soldier’s perspective of the battle and how bullets were flying by, no food, seeing their friends being killed. Taking the social history route is key when discussing a lot of historical events. For example, during the crack epidemic, many politicians and rich people were not affected and they are at the top of society, therefore they never realized what life was like for people in those positions. During the crack epidemic, there were not many primary sources that were actually showing and displaying some of the characteristics that were shown during the heroin epidemic. So, the differences between the crack epidemic and the heroin epidemic were that first off there was a racialized component, and second that the crack epidemic was seen from that top-down analysis, and the heroin epidemic was seen from the social history approach
A way to show the racial privilege effect of the crack epidemic is the way that the epidemic was framed socially compared to other drug epidemics. Sadé L. Lindsay, author of Drug Epidemics and Moral Crusades: The Role of Race in Framing Issues of Substance Abuse explains the idea of public perception perfectly. Lindsay discusses the crack epidemic and the heroin epidemic and how they were both framed in the public eye. In one section of her research, Lindsay describes her findings on personal narratives in newspaper articles. Prior, Lindsay discusses how the heroin epidemic primarily hit suburban neighborhoods which are predominantly areas that affect white people, and how the crack epidemic hit inner cities which predominantly affect areas of African Americans. In her findings, Lindsay cited an article from the New York Times that stated “Everyone’s dream child… She was in the honor society, a cheerleader, and sang the national anthem at school events” (Sade, 2017, p.2) and described this quote as a “positive characterization of heroin addicts was common from family and friends who were given the opportunity to discuss their heroin-addicted loved ones.” (Sade, 2017 Page24) When a media outlet describes victims of a drug-related death as positive, it gives a sense that what’s going on is a tragedy which is true. A tragedy in one drug-related death during a drug epidemic should be applied across the board regardless of what drug caused the death, but when it comes to the crack epidemic, Lindsay quoted an article from the Washington Post stating “[Crack] users typically binge without eating, sleeping, or bathing until their crack and money are gone and they collapse physically… addicts break into vacant buildings to smoke and share pipes. They also share common squalor (WP 1988).”(Sade, 2017 Page 26) Stating that the victims of a drug epidemic are unhygienic and physically unhealthy gives a negative connotation to them and is completely opposite of the heroin epidemic. With the heroin epidemic affecting whites, the media gives sympathy for them and praises the victims for how good their life was and how they got ruined by heroin. When the media covers the crack epidemic, there is no sympathy at all but rather a somewhat condescending attitude toward victims and most of the victims of the crack epidemic were blacks in inner cities.
To prove the difference in the social framework of the two drug epidemics, an article by the New York Times and by STAT news were drawn. Crack’s Destructive Sprint Across America written by Michael Massing, in 1989, discusses the effects of the crack epidemic while Behind the photo: How heroin took over an Ohio town written by Casey Ross, in 2016, discusses the heroin epidemic and its effects in small towns in Ohio. In Massing’s article, he stated many negative connotations of the crack epidemic specifically drawn into New York City. Massing discusses how the neighborhood of Washington Heights used to be an excellent vibrant cultural melting pot then states now if you “Wander off Broadway, though, and the neighborhood quickly seems like an American nightmare” (Massing 1989) giving a bad reputation to a neighborhood and people that lived in it as a whole. Massing also went on to state that “in Harlem, in South Jamaica, Queens, in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick and Brownsville, poor young blacks – jobless, uneducated and desperate – hungered for a piece of the ”crazy money” crack offered”(Massing 1989) again going back to what Sade stated, the use of condescending labels was put onto the people who were affected even going as far to state that “the gangs did their job only too well, killing 800 people by election day” (Massing 1989). In Ross’s article about the heroin epidemic, they hone in on a personal narrative rather than the heroin epidemic as a whole, again a statistic that Sade stated would be popular in comparison to the articles. The heroin epidemic has caused many people to overdose right in front of their children, in an interview with paramedic Christine Lerussi she stated “do you know how many houses we go into that the kids are sitting on the couch watching us?” (Ross,2016) as the newspaper article is sort of portraying a need for sympathy. A photo was taken by police of two parents overdosed in a car with a child in the back screaming for help, and the police department decided to put it on their Facebook as “Their decision to put it on Facebook was, in some ways, a cry for help.”(Massing 1989) It’s understandable to seek sympathy for victims in all aspects of a drug epidemic, but when the epidemic gets racialized, it’s seen that there is no sympathy for African Americans. Referring back to Sade she states that “largely frame the heroin epidemic as a public health concern by humanizing heroin addicts through personal narratives and advocating for collective action” (Massing 1989) but “the crack epidemic was framed as a public safety concern that emphasized punishment and crime prevention” (Sade,2017, p. 2), which is what can be seen between an analysis of both of these articles. Crack was dehumanizing, patronizing, and condescending acting as if the victims were not to be cared about. A drug epidemic again is a sad deal, but the application of sympathy through personal narratives should be applied equally when discussing both of them.
The Revolt that Changed Everything:The Haitian Revolution’s Immediate Effect on the United States
The year is 1804, and the New World is functioning as it had for the past thirty years since the American Revolution. After the war, a new constitution, and three presidential administrations, America had begun to find its footing as a new nation. With this, many Americans began to get used to their existence as a small democratic nation. However, whether the American people knew it or not, their world was about to drastically change. 1,888 miles south of the US, another revolution had been fought and won on the island of Saint-Domingue. The rebels, much like the US patriots, were able to cast off the yoke of a powerful European empire and establish the second democracy in the Western Hemisphere. However, this rebellion was much different than the one that occurred back in 1776. Unlike the US driving out the British and establishing a new government, the rebels of 1804 were living under much harsher oppression. These rebels were slaves who were living on Saint-Domingue under French colonial rule. In 1791, the slaves revolted against the French starting a twelve year bloodbath that would end in the abolition of slavery on the island and the establishment of the Empire of Haiti.
The United States, though in theory should be very pleased with another democracy emerging nearby, were none too happy about this development. This mostly stemmed from the fact that the Haitian government were all freed slaves. This idea of a successful African rebellion was so foreign to the American government. The success of a slave revolt also flew in the face of the then legal practice of slavery in the United States. This caused the US to avoid recognizing Haiti as a nation until the start of the Civil War. However, despite all of this, the US was greatly affected by the Haitian Revolution as well as their early interactions with the new nation. First, the Louisiana Purchase, which was caused due to the French needing money after the war’s economic devastation on the nation. This exchange doubled the US’ size and allowed it to begin expanding as a nation, taking its first steps to becoming a world power. But even beyond the Louisiana Purchase, the Haitian Revolution and its aftermath still affected the US greatly in terms of trade, foreign policy, and thoughts on how to deal with the issue of slavery.
Sadly, the Haitian Revolution as well as its profound impact on the United States is often not talked about when discussing how America became what it is today. It is very important that these effects be discussed and understood by a broader audience. There is a lack of awareness in terms of the connections between the Haitian Revolution and the growth of America. This proposal aims to answer the question of just how the Haitian Revolution impacted the United States in its immediate aftermath. Ultimately, through qualitative research this paper attempts to explain that the Haitian Revolution affected the United States in a way that caused it to grow into a far more powerful nation.
Teaching this event is an undertaking, as there are many ins and outs in regards to this revolution. Educating students based on the historiographic data found in this paper can actually prove to be a superior style as opposed to an ordinary lesson. With the information gleaned from the historians that are cited in this essay, students can achieve a much deeper understanding of the Haitian Revolution as well as its impact that it had on the United States.
Beyond just simply understanding the events, impact, and significance of certain episodes in history, there is a much deeper understanding one can acquire when studying certain key events. In the craft of historiography, a deeper analysis of history is made, where instead of reading for the information about a topic, the purpose is to understand how historians wrote and by extension, felt about said topic. In the case of the Haitian Revolution and its immediate effect of the United States, scholars range in their specific takes on the topic. Scholarship on the topic also has numerous areas of interest that different authors focus on. While some focus on the economic implications, others focus on the racial statements that the revolution made to the US. Other scholars fixate on the level of coverage the Haitian Revolution receives and how it reflects a larger issue with how history is written. These numerous points of focus often shed light on the historians who are behind them, as educators it is important to look past what the author is saying and think about why they are saying it.
However, all of these scholars touch on specifics that merely scrape the surface in regards to correlation of the Haitian Revolution to the US. But what is not touched on is how these numerous aspects and results of the conflict helped jumpstart the US into becoming the powerhouse it is today. This fact is often overlooked in classrooms, hence why many teachers breeze through the Revolution during lessons or just omit it from their courses entirely. Upon deeper inspection, many sources about the Haitian Revolution fail to elaborate on just how significant the slave insurrection was when it comes to paving the way for America to expand. While many authors like to praise and critique many aspects of the Revolution’s significance they often ignore how their many points of interest come together to reveal a much grander impact on America. A plethora of sources that has been compiled helps shed light on the absence of scholarship on this matter. Moreover, this will show why further research into how the Haitian Revolution molded America is certainly necessary and lastly how more teaching on this subject is also important.
Most scholars see the Haitian Revolution as a landmark event in terms of the fight against slavery. However, certain authors tend to lean more towards how the fight against racism was affected by the revolution. For example, Philippe Girard notes how after only two years into the Haitian Revolution, the First French Republic declared slavery an abolished practice. Girard discusses this in his piece, “Making Freedom Work: The Long Transition from Slavery to Freedom during the Haitian Revolution.” and goes on to explain how racism was talked about much more after the revolution. He backs this up by going through the long history of the fight against different forms of slavery and racism that were seen during the years during and after the revolution.
Mitch Katchun builds off of Girard’s focus on racism in his own work, “Antebellum African Americans, Public Commemoration, and the Haitian Revolution: A Problem of Historical Mythmaking.”. In Katchun’s piece, he elaborates on how the revolution had an effect on the fight against slavery and racism, but specifically in Antebellum America. Katchun complements the ideas of Girard but goes deeper when discussing how the revolution specifically started conversations about racism in enslaved African American circles. Citing the 1811 slave march in Louisiana led by Charles Deslondes, the author puts a lot of emphasis on how the events in Haiti inspired the fight against slavery to be expanded but in a more tangible way, such as another revolution. This facet of the impact of the revolution is one of the most widely discussed, however it can be expanded upon in numerous ways as shown by other scholars. It must also be noted that accounts such as this are valuable for teachers. This showcases how the Haitian Revolution influenced the slaves in the southern United States and was an early seed that was planted in their minds that would eventually grow into slave revolts within the US.
Numerous other authors chime in on the discussion of the Haitian Revolution’s impact (racially speaking) on the US. Tim Matthewson dives into this racial layer with his piece “Abraham Bishop, ‘The Rights of Black Men,’ and the American Reaction to the Haitian Revolution.”. In his writing, Matthewson discusses Abraham Bishop, an American man who wrote three pieces regarding the Haitian Revolution in the 1790s. Bishop supported the revolution and urged America as a whole to get behind the rebel’s cause. He stated how the US supported the French Revolution and also staged their very own revolution as well. With that said, Bishop argued that the US should support the similar cause in Haiti, but stated that it was due to the issue of slavery that prevented the US from doing that. Unlike the previous two scholars, Matthewson uses Bishop’s writings to showcase how white people were affected by the events in Haiti and started to defend the black people in the US. Overall, this subset of scholarship on the Haitian Revolution’s impact on the US was heavily focused on race which played a large role in the narrative of the event. However, other scholars attempt to break away from the ever prominent racial aspect and focus on other areas such as economic and political effects.
When looking at how the Haitian Revolution changed the US economically and politically, certain authors touch on a bevy of policy changes, and repercussions during and after the war. An example of this comes in the form of Robin Blackburn, a scholar who in her piece “Haiti, Slavery, and the Age of the Democratic Revolution.” touches on how the US had to begin forming its own international policies. One such policy was its refusal to recognize Haiti. This included an embargo on the new nation, despite it being a massive trading partner when under French control. This changed the US’s treatment of other nations when it came to trade as it set a precedent with Haiti that essentially states that the US will not trade with another nation and ignore what’s beneficial for itself if it does not support the government of that nation. This stems from the statement made by the success of the slave rebels.
This is focused on by Blackburn who infuses the issue of race and slavery but adds an economic/political spin to it. She notes how the US put itself in a bizarre situation by supporting other democratic revolutions (Like the French) but not ones such as Haiti. This is due to the fact that the US would be forced to admit (in a sense) that the black slaves were capable trading partners, which flies in the face of the notion that black people were sub-human and deserved to be nothing more than slaves. And as Blackburn points out, it only became worse when Haiti survived for decades after the revolution. So the US opted to simply not recognize the island nation, something that would continue up until 1862. This is interesting for educators as it can be used by teachers to explain two layers of the issue that the US was faced with during this time. The US’ problem was not just a racial one, it was an economic one as well. Author Tim Matthewson brings up how the US immediately reacted to the revolution and what he states is very telling. In his piece “George Washington’s Policy Towards the Haitian Revolution ” the author states that under the first presidential administration in the US, American merchants actually were allowed to aid the French with supplies and even men. This was in hopes to defeat the slaves, showing that the US had been willing to help squash all slave revolts in the name of maintaining the practice. Matthewson uses this little known fact to highlight the idea that the US was very much a pro slavery nation, and that even before the revolution had been won, the US had already been trying to put it down.
Another scholar adds to the discussion by way of citing the particular benefits and unintentional problems that the rebellion had on America. This scholar is Jim Thomson, author of “The Haitian Revolution and the Forging of America.”
In his piece, Thompson adds to the discussion of the Haitian Revolution’s effect on the US by highlighting a few results of the conflict. One was how France had to sell the Louisiana Territory to the US to get money to fund Napoleon’s conquest of Europe. This important moment for the US, a moment that doubled its size was caused by the Haitian Revolution’s economic impact on France. This dent in the already fragile economy of France caused Napoleon to work with the US which resulted in the monumental Louisiana Purchase.
These particular scholars prefer to highlight why Haiti changed the United States’ political and economic status in the world. Whereas previous authors focused on race, this group, specifically Thompson who really hones in on that aspect of the relationship between Haiti and America. Blackburn is different as she focuses on the impacts politically and economically, however she infuses a bit of race into her point of study. Citing how the political relationship between the two nations was tense due to the issues of race and slavery, Blackburn connects what the previous scholars have noted about the revolution with her own part of the conversation. This blends the two areas of study together and actually shows how these different impacts (racial, political, economic) did not exist apart from each other but rather built off each other to make a much larger impact on the United States.
The final area of study that scholars seem to focus on, is the historiography of this tense relationship between Haiti and the United States. Many scholars often go into why the revolution has not been noted as a larger event historically and why the aforementioned impacts it had on other nations (specifically the US) have often been downplayed. John E. Baur makes mention of this in his piece “International Repercussions of the Haitian Revolution.”. In it Baur states that there has never been a full scale study of the impacts of the Revolution and just rather numerous articles and pieces about certain aspects of it and its impact. This gets at exactly what this proposal aims to achieve, putting those pieces together to create a full scale study on the topic of Haiti’s impact on the US. With more study into this topic, teachers can better utilize this monumental moment from history by implementing it into their curriculums.
This historiographical aspect to the topic is unique as it explains why the topic of the revolution and its effects has not been given the recognition it deserves. Thomas Reinhardt answers this question in his piece “200 Years of Forgetting: Hushing up the Haitian Revolution.”. In his work, Reinhardt states that the authors who wrote about the revolution spoke of it in a demeaning manner. The brutality of the insurrection was what most scholars used as their rationale for why black people are barbaric and without Western guidance they will act savagely as they did back in Africa. Reinhardt notes how the success of the rebellion and establishment of the Haitian nation was completely undercut by these writers who simply wanted to discredit black people. Reinhardt asserts that writings like those were why many people did not pay much attention to the Haitian Revolution and its significance.
Adding to the idea that there was a concerted effort to diminish the importance of the Haitian Revolution is author Manuel Barcia. Barcia agrees with the ideas of Reinhardt in that white historians were made uncomfortable by the success of the uprising. In his piece “Comment: From Revolution to Recognition: Haiti’s Place in the Post-1804 Atlantic World.” Barcia particularly takes note of what the success of black people meant for the rest of the world. Barcia notes that acknowledging the fact that the Haitian rebels won and were able to run a sustainable nation would mean that one would have to acknowledge the fact that black people were just as skilled as anyone else. This of course threatened the status quo of white people dominating black people in society, which Barcia says is why it has not been touched upon by mainstream history. One interesting point made by the author is how the US in particular would trade with Haiti (covertly) but still not recognize them as a nation. This, according to Barcia, helped justify the lack of coverage writers gave Haiti as it was not recognized by the US until decades after the revolution.
The final historian being examined is Shannon Marie Peck-Bartle. In her piece “Toussaint L’Ouver-Who? An Anthropological Approach to Infusing the African Diaspora into Caribbean History.” Peck-Bartle adds to the discussion on the lack of recognition the rebellion has received. The piece pushes that the reason why the impact of Haiti has not fully been appreciated is because the Western world has spun a Eurocentric narrative of the events since 1804. This is to say that the West essentially took credit for Haiti’s success by asserting that without their European philosophies and culture, the Haitians could never have been able to successfully stage an insurrection and maintain a stable society for as long as they did. Peck-Bartle challenges this notion by pushing that rather than European culture creating the revolution, it was African culture that actually helped unite the Haitian rebels to be able to succeed. This information is valuable for teachers as it offers the opportunity to look at what is being taught in schools and see how culturally imbalanced the material is. The Eurocentric nature of most classes is unfortunate but also a very real thing and topics like the Haitian Revolution and its historiography help show teachers that there is not a lot of representation for numerous cultures around the world.
This third subsection of scholarship on the Haitian Revolution is unique as it focuses on the historiography of the event. Different scholars discuss different avenues of why this topic isn’t explored as often as it should. While people like Baur point out how there has been no full scale look into this event and its impact, people like Reinhardt and Barcia provide the reasons why. With Reinhardt asserting that the West simply went out of its way to paint the revolution in a bad light and Barcia explaining that this was because the alternative was to acknowledge the fact that black people were capable of both freeing and governing themselves. Peck-Bartle actually veers from this and states that actually the West chose to take credit for the Haitian’s success instead of outright ignoring or demonizing it. Overall, these scholars helped explain why the revolution doesn’t get as much attention and just why its impact on the US is not highlighted as often as it should.
Upon review of all ten sources it is quite clear that they all have their merits and add to the discussion about Haiti’s revolution and its impact on the US. The sources focusing on race helped explain why the US had such an awkward relationship with the new nation. Girard and Katchun particularly provided strong arguments that supported their theses. The economic/politically based scholars helped pinpoint what changes occurred in the US because of the revolution. Blackburn is the most prominent of these scholars as she mixes both the racial component previously discussed along with the political components. She successfully adds to the discussion and links two different areas of study. The final section is the historiographical section that hones in on why the impacts of the Haitian Revolution aren’t discussed as much as they should be. Again, these scholars connect the two other areas of study, the racial and economic/political by explaining why racism and Eurocentrism created a historiography that neglects the Haitian Revolution’s impact. This section seems to have the most debate over the truth behind why Haiti has been neglected. While Reinhardt and Barcia seem to agree with Peck-Bartle that race plays a major role in the downplaying of Haiti’s significance, they disagree with her when she says the West took credit for Haiti’s success and impact.
With the exception of the historiographical section, the scholarship on Haiti and its impact on the US is rather cohesive. The scholars mostly agree with each other and some of the different subsets actually blend well with each other, creating a clearer image of what the effects the Haitian Revolution had on the US were. The biggest issue these authors have is that they do not go deeper with their claims. They state that the revolution impacted the United States and list examples of how it did so. They also explain why there hasn’t been much research done on the topic. But the scholarship lacks one major point of focus, and that is how all of these subsets come together. What this proposal attempts to explore is how the Haitian Revolution immediately affected the United States. Furthermore, upon answering that question, this proposal aims to show how this impact absolutely molded the US into the world power that it is today. By infusing the three most prominent areas of study in regards to the revolution, this proposal will expand upon what has already been stated. The large scale implications for the United States brought on because of the Haitian Revolution and its success will be uncovered and ultimately show how a seemingly insignificant slave revolt changed the trajectory of a country that would become one of the most powerful nations on Earth.
The Haitian Revolution serves as a historic reminder of the triumphs of African people. It also serves as an interesting point of study when examining its relationship with the United States. The revolution’s mere existence shed light on the US’ own issues with slavery as well as early signs of the nation’s hypocrisy. The issues of racism and slavery are interconnected to the revolution; these two topics envelop the history of the modern west and cannot be ignored. With this said, these topics can be showcased through lessons about the Haitian Revolution as well as the island nation’s relationship with the United States.
The beauty of this topic is that it goes even deeper than that as it can also be used as a way to examine the historiography of the subject, something that is often overlooked in classes today. Examining how people have written history helps show students how people viewed a certain topic back then as well as how they view it now. These are valuable for both students and educators alike. Lastly, the study into the Haitian Revolution helps show how the US became the nation that it is today. Looking at the success of the US through the lens of the Haitian Revolution can help expand students’ understanding of the success of other people outside of the US. It can also showcase some of the inspiration for change in the US, namely the fight to end slavery. Overall, the educational value of the Haitian Revolution stretches far beyond its use as a fun and exciting historic episode. Through its links to race relations, slavery, economics and historiography, the Haitian Revolution truly makes for a great area of focus for educators who want to make their students better and more well-rounded scholars in the field of history.
Barcia, Manuel. “Comment: From Revolution to Recognition: Haiti’s Place in the Post-1804 Atlantic World.” American Historical Review 125, no. 3 (June 2020): 899–905. doi:10.1093/ahr/rhaa240.
Girard, Philippe. “Making Freedom Work: The Long Transition from Slavery to Freedom during the Haitian Revolution.” Slavery & Abolition 40, no. 1 (March 2019): 87–108. doi:10.1080/0144039X.2018.1452683.
Kachun, Mitch. “Antebellum African Americans, Public Commemoration, and the Haitian Revolution: A Problem of Historical Mythmaking.” Journal of the Early Republic 26, no. 2 (2006): 249–73. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30043409.
Matthewson, Tim. “Abraham Bishop, ‘The Rights of Black Men,’ and the American Reaction to the Haitian Revolution.” The Journal of Negro History 67, no. 2 (1982): 148–54. https://doi.org/10.2307/2717572.
The Forgotten Lessons: The Teaching of Northern Slavery
In the winter of 2021, a dark discovery took Rider University by storm and sparked a revelation amongst many of the students in attendance. After over a century of being hidden in the darkness, the secret that Rider University was once a slave-owning plantation was revealed to the world. A place of advanced education and diversity was once an institution of oppression. The university has since changed the name of the building from the name of the slave owner, Van Cleve, to the Alumni House. It is important that history not be forgotten, but instead brought to the forefront. The university will not erase the history but rather use it as a way to teach about the complicated history of slavery in the state of New Jersey. To many of the students attending the university, this came as a surprise. The students who were history majors were astonished by the fact that slavery occurred in the state of New Jersey, let alone on Rider University’s property. The reason for this lack of information stems from the collective lack of education on the subject.
With a basic understanding of American history, one would be led to believe that slavery was a southern issue and continues to be a contentious history when taught in those states. The reality was that slavery was a nationwide institution. Though schools in the south are vocal about the unwillingness to teach the subject, schools in the north are silent. There is continuous hypocrisy in deflecting all discussions of the matter to the south while ignoring what happened in their own backyards. Walking through any school teaching U.S. history, one may hear a line like “The north were free states and the south were slave states.” Similarly, worded statements can be found within schools in New Jersey all across the state. It implies that Northern states had no slaves at the time of the civil war and were actively fighting the good fight. When the 14th Amendment comes into discussion, one may have the impression that it directly pertained to the freeing of enslaved people in the south, rather than the north as they were already free. This simplification of the issue is far from the truth. To this day, many students will never learn that slavery took place in the north at all, let alone that New Jersey was the last state to abolish the practice. The nation now celebrates Juneteenth to “commemorate an effective end of slavery in the United States”. The stark reality is that slavery persisted after Juneteenth in the state of New Jersey legally for almost a full year, and illegally for another year. That dark history is often forgotten within classrooms throughout the state of New Jersey and the nation.
The lack of national attention to this critical issue does beg the question of how it happened. Many historians argue that the lack of discussion on the institution of northern slavery was due to the racist beliefs of historians in the 19th and 20th centuries. The voices of those early historians often get blamed for creating the view that slavery was only relevant when discussing the civil war as it was undeniably a major cause. As time progressed, one would assume the material on northern slavery would become more prevalent, however, that is not the case. As the discussion both in the classroom and by historians on the institution of slavery has expanded, northern slavery still remains for the most part absent. The question remains: did this critical part of the establishment of the nation go untaught? The only way to answer that question is by examining the teaching of slavery in New Jersey and the Tri-state area. This will open that gateway to a deeper understanding of how this history could be erased from the collective memory.
Before proceeding, it is imperative to understand what the discussion of the education on northern slavery has been. Though the discussion on northern slavery began in the late 1940s alongside the civil rights movement, the conversation about its absence in the classroom does not begin until 1991 due to a shocking discovery in Manhattan, New York. As the federal government was constructing a 275 million dollar project, they stumbled upon “the largest and oldest collection of colonial-era remains of free and enslaved Africans in the United States, according to the National Park Service”. This discovery of the cemetery caused massive protests to fight the city to halt the construction and the removal of the bodies from the site. Following this event, the New York City public schools began to look for a way to incorporate the material into the class and teach this reality that was just revealed to them. This started a growing push from schools across the nation to try to incorporate this reality.
The conversation on northern slavery would continue over a decade later when Professor Alan Singer of Hofstra University would guest teach in New York City public schools. When teaching less than a mile away from the enslaved African cemetery, most of the students were completely oblivious to the reality that not only were slaves in New York but how the reality of slavery was visible in their own community. Though many decisions on how to tackle such an issue were made to teach this material, over a decade later the students still had no idea about northern slavery. The discussions on the material did not translate into the classroom to a sufficient extent. The debate on how to successfully teach northern slavery in the classroom ensued and ultimately lead to the discussion on how to teach this history appropriately.
The content of northern slavery required a restructuring in order to successfully teach the material. Previously, slavery was only taught at the establishment of European colonies in the New World and before the American Civil War. What this divide does is creates the material into another unit, a separate event rather than a continuous struggle. The 2016 book Understanding and Teaching American Slavery by Bethany Jay and Cynthia Lyerly attempt to illustrate the best organization for discussing the topic and the history of the institution of slavery in classrooms. In their analysis of the history of teaching the institution of slavery, they regard the idea of teaching slavery exclusively at those points during early American Colonization and the Civil War to “severely hinder its importance.” What is the best way to teach the institution of slavery is discussing the enslaved perspective threw out the development of the nation. The benefits of this method allow the longevity of the issue and the hardships faced by those affected to be well articulated amongst the students. This is due to its constant presence and the reminder that liberty and freedom were not for all. This revelation in adding the enslaved perspective to early American history would spark further development in tools and resources to bring northern slavery into the classroom.
An initiative would be enacted to bring northern slavery and the massive scope of the institution of slavery to the forefront. This would come in the form of The New York Times 1619 Project. This resource marks an incredible stride in the conversation on teaching northern slavery. The project’s purpose is “to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative”. This comes out of a series of historians and teachers discussing how the realities and the true institution of slavery were untaught to them in the classroom. The project’s aim is to bring these lost lessons of slavery such as its true cruelty and its widespread adoption throughout the nation, not just exclusively in the south. It is built off of the ideals proposed in Understanding and Teaching American Slavery and other books with the same idea tofollow this notion that slavery is an integral part of the nation as a whole, rather than at specific points in U.S. history. The combination of all these ideas paints a picture of the flaws of the teaching of slavery threw out the nation. The current discussion’s main focus is looking at what is absent in the current classroom. The smaller conversation that pertains to the material taught in the past primarily revolves around racism and the Klan. The discovery of a 1904 textbook that details the brutality of northern slavery pushes back on this notion. It begs the question of whether the subject was truly untaught or if another force was responsible for its absence. Looking at the material present in the classroom in the past may prove an insight into northern slavery’s appeared absence.
An analysis of the classroom material available to students is key to understanding the absence of northern slavery. To find these answers, understanding what material was being taught in classrooms from the 1860s and beyond. A method to understand the content of the classroom is by looking at textbooks. Many school notes and lesson plans have been lost to time, but what remains are textbooks. The work of Dr. Pearcy shows the indicator tool that can be used to understand their effect on the content being taught in schools. He states clearly in his article, “Textbooks are, ultimately, tools, for student use. Their utility can only be measured by the degree to which they offer teachers the opportunity to build student-centered inquiry”. From this notion, we can conclude that textbooks are just an object and a tool for students to use. Their content is meaningless unless given a purpose by the teacher. Everything learned in the classroom is under the teachers’ control and they possess the option to use or discard the textbook. However, textbooks do tell us something else depending on where they are. His research looks at ten different U.S. history textbooks of different authors that are widely adopted and compares their tellings of the Battle of Fort Sumter. After analyzing each of the tellings, an interesting trend occurs. This trend is in the bias of the author and how they pick and choose what details to keep and leave out of the telling of the event. This bias could affect the leanings of anyone reading and coerce their perspective of the events that unfolded. These different depictions of the conflict in different areas can have effects on the material discussed in class or reflect it. Companies such as Pearson publish multiple textbooks by different authors to capitalize mainly on the market, however, what market are they capitalizing on?
Looking at the rationale behind the variation of textbooks based on location can assist in understanding why certain content is missing. The findings by Goldstein in his article Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories sheds light on the issue of why these publishing companies hire multiple historians and interpretations of the same material. This article focuses on eight different textbooks found within the states of Texas and California. The issues arise when looking at the same textbook in multiple states. The textbooks are by the exact same author but have different versions for each state. The variations were created by request of school districts or even the book’s own editor. These individuals remove or request additions of material to allow the book to be adopted in a particular area. The best evidence to illustrate this divide between locations is that of the Harlem Renaissance. Examples of this are found in Pearson’s United States History: The Twentieth Century 19th edition. On the subject of the Harlem Renaissance, the Californian edition features a section on the debate within the African American community over its overall impact on them and the nation as a whole. The Texas version only includes the line “some critics ‘dismissed the quality of literature produced’”. What these two distinct changes, along with many more, indicate is the presence of the political atmosphere of the area and the belief of the people the textbook is serving to reinforce. The textbook adopted by a particular state or district reflects the information a school is teaching in the classroom.
With an understanding of the behind-the-scenes crafting of textbooks, there can be the formulation of the content of northern slavery in school. Combining the findings of Dr. Pearcy and Goldstein, textbooks can provide insight into the classroom. The selection of the historian and the version adopted by the school reflect what the administration desired its teachers to instruct in the classroom. Though it may not be a perfect indicator of what was taught in classrooms, as it’s a tool for teachers to use, it gives an idea of what is being taught in the classroom. Examining textbooks from the past used in classrooms within the Tristate area can reveal if northern slavery was taught, and to what extent.
Examining the earliest textbook may yield an understanding of the lack of teaching, not only about northern slavery but slavery as a whole. An example of the content of what was taught in the classroom after the Civil War and in the years following can be found in The New England Primer. This book originated in 1690 and was a fixture in the classroom until the 1930s, a well over 200-year run. The textbook served as the basis of elementary education instruction. By looking at these textbook translations, historians get a sense of what was required of the majority of students at this time, along with what was taught in classrooms. Looking at the 1802 edition, the book opens with an alphabet chart. This gets taught through prayers that become progressively more complex as they go. This information indicates that understanding the alphabet was key. Depending on the quantity available, the school could have focused on reading and potentially writing to utilize this book. Within the context of these prayers, one learns about the calendar and days of the week, counting and basic mathematics, and a small amount of history. This stresses the importance of religion in the classroom at this time. The underlying message throughout the book is that God is more important than any other subject or material in the classroom. The small amount of history included is more biblical in nature but does include the basics of the American government system. The addition of the U.S. system of government is the only change from the 1773 edition, replacing prayers outlining the functions and structure of the parliament system. What this shows is that history was really not a focus in this era of education. Only those who would exceed the basic knowledge of the time would learn about more advanced information. With the perpetuation of this book into the 20th century, this basic education would be what was taught to many poor American individuals and black Americans. More fortunate areas would receive new textbooks and educational material, phasing this material out or relying on it less exclusively. Those less fortunate areas would be using this information exclusively until the 1930s. The New England Primer is referred to as the “Bible of one-room schoolhouse education”. The lack of history not only assists in the loss of the knowledge of northern slavery but of the entire institution of slavery as a whole. These individuals would want the history they learned as children in school. A slow creep of this altered history would make its way to the north.
Movements were made to suppress and remove the teaching of not only northern slavery but all of black history. The most prominent of these would be “The Lost Cause”, the movement to honor the legacy of the confederacy. This movement would begin in the 1870s as reconstruction would begin to fail. The lost cause mentality would paint the black community as unable to attain the same equality as white individuals due to the efforts attempting to create equality failed. This gave rise to the notion that the confederates were noble in their sacrifice to fight for slavery. It rewrites the telling of the history that “there was nothing ‘lost’ about the southern cause”. This was due to the mindset that black Americans were only good at being servants to white men. Monuments and memorials to honor the confederacy would be constructed such as the statues of Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and Robert E. Lee. By the 1890s this movement would sink its teeth into the education system of the north. The goal was to rewrite history books to reflect the southern perspective and preserve its honor. This movement is regarded as a reunion of America’s racist mentality as it proposed the Civil War was caused by other factors, not slavery. It also created this idea of the “happy slave”, the idea that there were enslaved individuals that loved slavery and serving the white man. Women’s organizations and the state department of education were the ones in charge of advocating for approving educational material for schools. Many became strong supporters of the lost cause and by the 1920’s it would be integrated into schools across the north and especially in New Jersey.
Before the alteration of the history would appear, strides were made to bring the history of northern slavery to the forefront. In the 1870s history books began to include slavery within their content. The oldest examined history textbook to bear mention of slavery is the Condensed History of The United States from 1871. This book was used in a classroom in Norristown, Pennsylvania, as demonstrated by the address of the school on the front cover pages with the initial date of October 31, 1888. On the page adjacent, student names are written, with the last one being 1899, giving the text an eleven-year confirmed usage in the classroom. The cover pages are full of notes made by students long past, however, one stands out amongst the rest. This particular note is a prayer, one found word for word from the 1812 edition of the New England Primer. This detail establishes that in this classroom, the two books were in fact utilized together. This class was learning American history alongside the basics in the New England Primer. The town had the economic resources present to invest in its youth’s education. The students within this town received a higher quality of education than those of poorer communities. However, what did these students learn about not only northern slavery but the institution of slavery as a whole?
This history tells a very interesting version of America’s past, but what is interesting is what is left out. There is no mention of slavery until what they call the “War of Secession” is discussed. The book starts with the discovery of the new world and the establishment of each American state at the time of its publication, but not one mention of slavery till that point. The book does establish that there was northern slavery by directly stating “At the time of adoption of the Constitution, slavery existed in the Northern as well as the Southern States”. It provides an impressive analysis for its time detailing the various legal cases pertaining to slavery such as Dred Scott v. Sanford. There is a fascinating inaccuracy with the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments; as the book details that Johnson was president for their passing. It details that the passing of these amendments was the cause of the issues between the President and the other two branches, rather than Reconstruction. In fact, the only mention of Reconstruction at all is Johnson vetoing the Reconstruction Act of 1865 rather than discussing any of the programs created by it. This alteration to history has two possible reasons for the inaccuracy. The first is more innocent, being in the title of the book “condensed”. Reconstruction not only is a long process and would officially end in 1877. The book was written in 1874 meaning that reconstruction was still ongoing at the time. Writing on its effects could be taken as more speculatory and not factual information as the book attempts to stick exclusively to. The second is the seed of the lost cause making its way into the material. The ideology of the lost cause deemed Reconstruction a failure and did not warrant time discussion. Its omission is telling that this influence was seeping into the education of these students. However, what is most interesting is what it says about how slavery ended in the north. After detailing the increase of southern populations due to the cotton gin, it stated, “In the North, on the other hand, where slave labor was not profitable, slavery soon died out”. It leads to the idea that in the 1850s slavery was extinct in the north, however, the reality was quite different. Slavery was very much alive in the north during the 1850s.
Looking at the history of just New Jersey alone, there is a far different reality of northern slavery from this telling in the textbook. Starting as far back as the 1790s, New Jersey was split over the issue of slavery. Quakers were strongly against it; they interpreted enslaved people as people due to the wording of the constitution. The three-fifths compromise of 1787 also reinforced their claim that enslaved individuals were people. The opposition viewed freedom as an economic catastrophe. The labor force for the majority of the state’s highest-grossing markets were nearly entirely enslaved or indentured servant individuals. They saw that liberation would make the industries of agriculture, ironworking, and factory manufacturing unprofitable. The debate over a compromise began in 1797 but would reach its conclusion in 1804 with the gradual abolition act, also referred to as the “free womb” act. This legislation gave freedom to all enslaved individuals born after July 4th, 1804 on their 21st birthday. This allowed slave owners to have the labor force they needed to make up for the economic loss of abolition and granted enslaved people their freedom at a set point. The average life expectancy of an enslaved individual in New Jersey at this time was forty-one years. This meant that they would likely have had only half their life to live if they even made it to freedom. The act was filled with loopholes that allowed the continuation of slavery in the state well after the projected period of total abolition. The idea was to have all enslaved individuals freed by the 1830s. The issue was with the clause that allowed children born while in the period of the enslavement term were to be placed in the care of the local principality. Principalities were the townships and counties that reside within the State of New Jersey. Many of the individuals in charge of managing the treatment of these children would give them right back into the hands of their masters, making them slaves till their 21st birthday. This is how the enslaved population grew far larger than it was in 1804 by the 1860s.
The inaccuracies of the teaching of northern slavery would have disastrous consequences to its very existence by later generations. The pervasive belief that slavery was all but extinct in the north by the 1860s is evidence of the start of the “the amnesia of slavery”. This is a term coined by historian James Gigantino II in his book The Curious Memory of Slavery in New Jersey, 1865-1941. What he seeks to illustrate is how Northern states such as New Jersey with such a large and prosperous enslaved population forgot that slavery even occurred in their own backyards. The reason for this was that slavery was looked at as an “insignificant sideshow” in the state. Many northern slaveowners owned only one or two slaves, thus making the reminders of an enslaved past virtually nonexistent to those that were not directly affected by it. What the Condensed U.S. History textbook shows us is this amnesia occurring. In a time when enslaved individuals and their children were very much still alive, their suffering is being forgotten. There is no active backlash as those with the ability to change the material have little to no interest. This early removal of teaching about what occurred beneath these students’ feet will send shockwaves to later generations and reach into the modern classroom.
There would be a push to expand the teaching of northern slavery upon the turn of the century before the influence of the Klan would take hold. This is evident in the textbook Stories of New Jersey by Frank R. Stockton. This book was published in 1896 and the copy analyzed was printed in 1904. The inside cover indicates the book originated from a Princeton classroom before finding its way into the Library of Congress. It is worth noting that this book is back in reproduction and the Amazon description of the book reads that it was “so popular over the years in NJ schools that it has in itself become a part of New Jersey’s history”. This book possesses a unique feature that is exclusive to this book and none other, even textbooks today. This feature is an entire chapter dedicated to the history of enslaved individuals in the state from 1626-1867. What this chapter says about slavery in the state is incredibly unique, especially for its time of publication. The section begins with Dutch settlers bringing enslaved individuals over with them in 1626 to develop the inhospitable land and form their colony. Enslaved individuals were expendable and would do the labor that would normally require a far more physical toll on the body. They became the largest group of workers in the booming iron industry, logging, and of course, the plantations popping up across the land. In 1664, the Dutch surrendered their colonies to the English empire. In this exchange, many changes would appear in the lives of those original settlers, but slavery was not changed. Slavery remained in this state for over 200 years after this point. This early slavery history even includes an entire section on how Perth Amboy, New Jersey, was the slave trade capital in the north and distributed enslaved individuals throughout the northern colonies. This was all true. While other texts around this period ignore this history, this book sought to put a spotlight on it. Following details of the atrocious conditions the enslaved people in the state faced and the lack of large plantations like the south, it noted that large numbers of individuals owned one or two enslaved individuals. This kept slavery as a pivotal force in the community and essential to its economy. If this text was utilized in the classroom to the fullest, many students would have learned a genuine and dark history of the establishment of the state’s institutions. However, this very insightful history becomes inaccurate regarding the abolition of slavery.
The first half of the telling of northern slavery from Stories of New Jersey is remarkable with its depiction of northern slavery for its time, but that narrative falls apart when reaching the abolition of slavery in the state. While it does portray an accurate picture, much of it is far from the truth. The first comes in the debates over the gradual abolition act of 1804. The book describes it as Quakers becoming abolitionists; the three-fifths compromise made their view under the law that these were people, not property, and entitled to the same rights. The opposition saw slavery as an economic necessity as the work they were doing was dangerous. These were undesirable jobs no one wanted to do in their society. This debate over the issue does remain close to the reality that transpired. The text makes a crucial error in stating the gradual abolition bill that allowed the abolition of slavery on one’s twenty-first birthday passed in 1820 rather than 1804. This alteration of the date creates a precedent that the abolition of slavery was far faster and more efficient. It creates the idea that New Jersey’s policy was successful and had no issues with its implementation. Further errors found in the section support this idea that the solution the state implemented was successful. When discussing the results of the act it directly states, “in 1840 there were still six-hundred and seventy-four slaves in the state, and by 1860 only eighteen slaves remained, and these must have been very old”. These numbers couldn’t be further from the truth as slavery was still going strong by the 1850s.
What is missing from the Stories of New Jersey textbook are those who were wrongfully enslaved. The text leaves out the dark reality that a percentage of slavery occurring in the state was children who were supposed to be free. The 1804 Gradual abolition act forced some of the children born to enslaved mothers into a life of enslavement until their twenty-first birthday. The census of children being born from 1804-1835 to exclusively enslaved mothers shows five hundred and forty-one documented children. It is estimated that in the year 1850, while documentation may say two hundred and thirty-six, far more were illegally in service. The text also does not acknowledge the abolition of slavery in its entirety in 1866. The wording makes it appear it ended gradually by 1860 citing the success of the gradual abolition act. This misinformation will impact generations to come as it was the definitive history of the state. It took until 2008 for the New Jersey government to finally formally apologize for its slave-owning past and its failure to step in and end its illegal perpetuation. Though it may not be the most perfect telling of the history, it’s evidence that people were trying to teach the injustice that happened within their state. Slavery was not relegated to a small part of the civil war, rather it merited its own chapter dedicated to the hardships and debate over its abolishment. While this book is making its way into classrooms, so is the Klan. The Klan would attempt to rapidly spread in the education field and in the coming decades as part of its resurgence. This growth would ultimately transform the history of northern slavery.
The Klans’ takeover of northern education and purging of the history of not just northern slavery, but the entire institution is seen within the textbooks of the 1920s. The 1924 textbook An Elementary History of New Jersey by Earle Thomson is dramatically different from the textbook from 1904. What distinguishes this book aside is absolutely no mention of slavery of any kind. This textbook was definitely used within the state, as in the preface the author thanked superintendents and principals who commissioned a book to express their shared view of the truly important history and to add tools that would enhance student understanding. The schools this particular book was used in included Union, Hackensack, Newark, and Westfield. There may have been more schools adopting this book, however, those are unmentioned by the author, and no indication is left on any of the Library of Congress documentation. The book directly states that “children should be taught in some detail the history of their own state and of its part in the development and progress of the country” while omitting a major part of their history. The larger shocking piece is that only the conflict of the Civil War is discussed. There is no lead-up; it just dropped the reader right into the conflict. It appears that only the victory of the war was significant, but not what they were fighting for or even the amendments that followed. This text is pivotal to understanding the shift in the classroom. The lost cause ideology had reached the apex of its hold on the classroom. The removal of all mention of slavery or black Americans was done to illustrate how unimportant the black community was and how futile any action to promote equality was. However, its removal may have been far more purposeful than just a desire to push this lost cause ideology.
The Klan had far larger ambitions than just the omission of slavery from educational material during the 1920s. The book The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition by Linda Gordon sheds light on this exact time period. The Klan was a notorious hate group created in the aftermath of the Civil War but it saw a resurgence in the 1920s. This revived Klan was stronger in the North than in the southern states of the nation and focused on the education system of the time. Their priority was the recruitment of white American youth to continue their organization into the coming generations. This involved integration of the Klan into the material taught in schools. The Klan and those associated with them edited the material to reflect the beliefs of the organization. This makes recruitment easier as the Klan reflects the morals and values secretly supplanted into the minds of susceptible students. This was most evident in the teaching of history in the classroom. Klansmen in positions of authority in schools such as superintendents used their influence to alter texts found in the classroom. This involved the recreation of textbooks to fit their nefarious agenda. The lack of a mention of slavery or even the leadup or aftermath of the civil war in the 1924 textbook is evidence of known involvement. It’s unclear if any of the principals or superintendents credited in the textbook are Klansmen, but the influence is quite evident. The textbook states, “This book is in no sense a complete history of New Jersey, the author hopes that its study may prove an inspiration to the purple to become an upright citizen of his community or state”. The absence of this major time period in the state’s history is done in a way to not invoke question. Unless there is other supplemental material taught in the classroom, the dark history of the state and the nation are removed from the collective memory. This book directly shows how “the amnesia of slavery” occurred not only in the state of New Jersey but across northern states. With the widespread recruitment push for new Klansmen, anyone learning in schools around this time would have no recollection of northern slavery’s existence. All the work in the decades past to bring this history into the classroom has been completely undone. Any book touching on the subject would have to start from scratch if the goals of those behind the book were successful.
Following the end of the Second World War, the U.S. would revisit the teaching of northern slavery. The post-war U.S. began to enter a period of civil rights and reforms as the Truman administration began to assist in the abolishment of segregation. This gets reflected in the 1947 U.S. history textbook American History by Howard Wilson and Wallice Lamb. This textbook is fascinating due to its creation. The book states that the author’s intentions for writing the textbook were to “include history and perspectives from this great nation that have been forgotten or removed over the years”. This indicates that the creation of the book was to teach a history that includes information removed by the Klan and other parties. The authors attempted to devise a history from the ground up that includes lost information including slavery. It kept its promise by including a simplified version of the slave trade and the quantity of forced labor employed. The text also looked into how the institution of slavery was a fundamental part of colonization in the Americas. It may not be the most perfect of tellings as it leaves the atrocities that faced the enslaved individuals out. This is significant as it leaves out the horrors that faced enslaved individuals. It creates the notion that this was a great injustice on the part of the colonists but was not as horrific as the reality of the situation. It keeps the reader, most likely a white student, separated from the event allowing no remorse for the actions of their forefathers to the black community. This was the last instance of slavery mentioned till the causes of the Civil War. There are two chapters dedicated to the development of agriculture and industry in the northern states and the southern states, but there is no mention of slavery whatsoever. What this does is reinforces the idea that slavery was there, but it wasn’t important in the continued development of the nation. The practice of slavery was only significant in establishing a foothold on the land. It makes the institution and the horrors faced by the enslaved people insignificant to economic development. However, coverage of the Civil War period possessed an interesting take on the content.
The 1947 textbooks’ stance on the Civil War and its aftermath indicate a deviation from the stranglehold of the Klan in education. The period leading up to the war has an interesting take on slavery. The text neither condemns nor supports either side of the debate on slavery. It creates this awkwardly neutral state when describing the situation that caused the suffering of so many. This is important as the goal appears to not anger those with sentiment in support of slavery. The author appears to be holding back their opinion on the matter and not getting into depth on the horrific reality. The text does have an allusion to the idea that the northern states either abandoned or abolished the practice. It describes this trope of the north being “abolitionist”, that there was no one within the state that opposed slavery. Following the end of the war, it does something unique to this text. The textbook described the reconstruction period in a way to appear successful rather than what happened in reality. The book described Reconstruction as establishing property in the south with 40 acres and a mule proposition. It describes how many would remain in the south as they were given property. What is also interesting is that it discusses the surge of newly freed black individuals getting into office as they finally received the right to vote. The book describes the downfall of the reconstruction as due to irresponsible spending of tax dollars and the creation of the Klan forcing black Americans to stay out of government and politics. The text portrays the Klan as the villain in reconstruction. It signifies a shift in public opinion and the elimination of their grasp on the education system. Information that pushes back on the lost cause narrative by showing that Reconstruction was sabotaged is making its way into schools. The neutral dialog however does indicate their presence is still there. The Klans’ limited presence is also indicated by the book leaving out many important details such as lynchings, or even the Great Migration of Black Americans to the north for work. These events had the potential to paint the Klan that existed at this time rather than the early organization during the reconstruction era in a negative light. The Klan may not have been as strong as they were in the previous decades, but was still a prominent organization throughout the nation, especially in the north. The textbooks telling of slavery does reinforce the notion that slavery was exclusively a southern problem, but this is not the first time this will occur.
Northern slavery’s absence in the classroom may not have been excluded due to racist involvement in the material. The relegation to slavery being exclusively southern is an issue that perpetuates to this modern day. This trend is one that Mr.Vikos, a former high school history teacher is very familiar with the pattern of returning to relegating slavery to exclusively the south. Mr. Vikos taught in Brooklyn from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. His insight into the teaching of northern slavery illustrates how racism is not the only factor in the removal of this information. In the late 60s, his school was facing a large influx of black students due to the end of segregation in 1963. The school would become nearly 100% black by 1975 and the teachers wanted to teach material that reflected the classroom’s demographics. This involved teaching northern slavery when the pre-Civil War era would arise in the classroom. “Students did enjoy the content at first, but as the years went on there were an increasing number of issues. The first was general confusion as students would get confused on what side slavery was on during the actual conflict. The second and most important issue was the lack of care. The students had no interest in learning about slavery that occurred here (New York)”. Eventually the teaching of northern slavery would be reduced as issues with the content would arise. “Readings on northern slavery were present in the classroom, but the likelihood anyone of the students remembered them a decade later is highly unlikely”. The teaching of northern slavery was present, but students would be the driving factor in its reduction. Eventually, the material would return to the idea that the north were free states and the south was slave states. There is a cycle of the subject of northern slavery appearing and then disappearing. The topic becomes introduced, it reaches a height where the issue is really focused on, and then an outside force acts, reducing the discussion back to the beginning. This trend can be seen between the textbooks from 1874 to 1924 with the Klan removing the material and again from 1947 to the 1970s when student interest would reduce its discussion. This trend would continue into the modern day. This becomes evident with the current lack of understanding of northern slavery even though the material is now present in almost every classroom in northern schools. The decades from the 1980s to the mid-2010s only serve to continue this trend.
To prove this theory of the teaching of northern slavery being a cycle, the decade of the 1980s serves as a point to see the material reintroduced. The 1980 textbook American History Review Text by Irving Gordon illustrates an interesting trend in the telling of history. This book was used in Port Richmond High School in Staten Island, New York throughout the 1980s and into the early 90s. The textbook immediately began with the colonization of America and the triangle trade after establishing a background on the New World. It also does a fantastic job of illustrating the population differences between the enslaved population and the white Europeans. This detail is that “slavery was found as a common practice throughout all English thirteen colonies”.Through discussing early American slavery, the inclusion that it existed within the entirety of the nation does allow the student reading to understand that the institution of slavery was in fact present in the north. Continuing the traditional organization structure, the textbook only mentions slavery only at the colonization of America and prior to the Civil War. This structure continues to assist in undermining the severity and longevity of the institution of slavery. When it begins to discuss the pre-Civil war era, it does call out hypocrisy. Though it may be two paragraphs, it sheds light on the hypocrisy of northern slavery. This hypocrisy was the north participating in slavery while simultaneously vilifying the south for participating in the exact same practice. This is significant as this is the first textbook examined to touch upon this issue. Not only does it bring to light northern slavery, but the textbook condemns the north for criticizing southern slavery before it abolished the practice fully within its states. Upon reaching the point of reconstruction, the textbook’s messages begin to shift.
Though time long since passed the time of Klan involvement, the telling of the history still bears its scars. The language of the text leads to assumptions with the vocabulary used to describe the black community at different points. In the beginning, they were described as “Africans” who then transitioned into being referred to as “enslaved” individuals. In the years during reconstruction, they are referred to as “Black”. However, once reconstruction ends they become “negros”. What this shows is the perpetuation of the lost cause mentality through the vocabulary. The idea of referring to black individuals as “negros” in this text is to establish the notion that the black community during the point of reconstruction and after are two different kinds of people. There also are present many allusions to what is going on in the north but the reality is vastly different. An example of this is the education system constructed in the south during Reconstruction. It stated “Negros, as well as whites, were guaranteed free compulsory public education by the reconstruction constitutions of the southern states. However, after the southern whites regained control, Negros received schooling that was segregated and inferior”. This line does highlight the notion that there was segregation and inferior education in the south but makes it appear that it was not a problem in the north. Segregated schools were prominent in the north as well and in some cases persisted far longer than they were legally able to. What this wording does that becomes commonplace is make the south sound like a racist and discriminatory place and paint the northern states in a light that is far from the reality that existed. The textbook does a decent job of illustrating the regression of the discussion of northern slavery. It may establish the institution existed in the north, but it lacks descriptions of the conditions. The text also regresses to race-charged wording linking its connection to the history of previous Klan-influenced textbooks. This would change as the nation entered the 1990s.
The discussion on northern slavery would continue due to its prioritization. The 90s would be a point where the material on northern slavery would begin to grow once again. Starting in 1996, Mr.Vikos would be responsible for approving textbooks for schools in the central headquarters. When asked about the criteria for what textbooks got approved, he would respond with the topic of slavery. He recalled how “many textbooks would just have a paragraph or two on the subject of slavers as a whole. It is impossible to cover all of the slavery in a single book, how do you do it in one paragraph? A textbook would only get passed if it discussed the social, political, and economic factors of both the north and the south”. He would stress the economic section as this would be the deciding factor of slavery’s perpetuation for both the north and the south. What was illustrated was a reinvigoration of the content. This was an individual who was passionate about bringing this information to the classroom and was in a place to do so. With the discovery of the massive burial of enslaved individuals in Manhattan a few years prior, there was a draw into teaching northern slavery.
As time progresses into the modern day, the pattern of the rise and fall of northern slavery’s discussion in the classroom only becomes more rapid of a cycle. Three different versions of the American Pageant textbook by Thomas Bailey, David Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen illustrate the perpetuation of the rise and fall of northern slavery in the classroom. The editions in question are the 2006, 2013, and 2016 versions. What makes these books unique is that they are currently in use in schools in New Jersey. The ones examined were in the possession of students actively using them in the classroom. What makes this even more interesting is the parts that were changed. The beginning chapters detail the triangle trade and the enslavement of the native American populations and the African populations. It even includes how slavery reach the American colonies in 1619 from captured slaves en route to Spanish colonies diverted to Virginia. The wording is almost exactly word for word between editions, so uniform it’s almost conspicuous. The differences become starkly relevant when the discussion of American slavery comes to question.
The three discussed American Pageant textbooks present differences that illustrate the increase and decline of the topic of northern slavery. Each book possessed a section dedicated to slavery between the founding of the nation and the civil war, slavery prior to the civil war, and a chapter on reconstruction. The differences become apparent in the first few paragraphs of the section. The 2006 edition was altered to include a deeper perspective of northern slavery following the revelation that attempts to include the material were unsuccessful. This is evident as the edition remarked that in the north there was freedom being attained, but there was more hatred of black Americans than in the south. This gets reinforced by the story of an individual who was born enslaved in the south, sold in New York City, and was eventually freed after eight years of servitude and the conditions she lived in after gaining freedom. The textbook accurately portrayed the conditions of slavery, and by covering the north before the south in the description of slavery, it gives the impression that slavery was equally horrible in practice throughout the nation. The 2013 edition states that northern slavery was just small farms with no large-scale plantations. It goes into detail about how New York abolished all of its slavery and possessed far better-living conditions than the south. This entirely changes the established narrative that slavery was a horrible practice. The text almost glorifies the practice of slavery in the state of New York. The 2016 edition resolves these issues by taking the best aspects of the two together. It largely emphasizes the story of the enslaved woman by giving it its own dedicated page. It includes an interesting insight into the northern slavery perspective. It does an excellent job of discussing how “few northerners were prepared for the outright abolition of slavery”. It goes in-depth at looking at the economic issues facing the north if it were to abolish slavery and the general view of the population wanting reform rather than abolition. The description of the popular view of the time feeds into a clearer understanding of the northern hypocrisy. This being the desire to abolish slaves in the south rather than within their own borders. The combining of the best of the two prior editions is the greatest strength of the sixteenth edition. Due to its publication date, the revised text containing a large amount of northern slavery material could be due to the political climate in 2016. The contentious political election sought to reinvigorate the discussion of slavery, especially that of northern states. This may be only speculation due to the recentness of this change, but outside forces like that are indicators of material like this being reintroduced based on the previously analyzed patterns in the earlier textbooks discussed. The three different textbooks indicate a falling point in the 2006 edition due to the reinvigoration in the 90s, a low point in 2015 as northern slavery was no longer in style, and then a spike in 2016 due to a shifting political climate.
What the analysis of these texts indicate is a disturbing trend of periodically increasing and decreasing the teaching of northern slavery in the northern states. There are large and periodic appearances of this under-discussed material and it appears to almost be predictable.
We begin to see it untaught in the classroom in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. This was due to the material being largely sourced from the New England Primer, a book that focused on basic language, mathematics, and civic education. The exclusivity of this textbook would fuel the “lost cause” ideology. This ideology was the belief that the south was justified in fighting for slavery as reconstruction failed, proving black individuals could never be equal to their white counterparts.The discussion of northern slavery begins to increase in the mid-1870s based on the material from Condensed U.S. History from 1874. Though the description of events leads much of the history of northern slavery out, it does make its appearance known. Entering the 20th century we see a boom in the discussion of the material. In the textbook of the history of New Jersey, Stories of New Jersey, there is a detailed history of slavery in the state. It goes as far back as the Dutch and only gets slightly inaccurate in the end with the eventual abolition of the institution. This revolutionary discussion of the material comes crashing down in the 1920s. This is illustrated by the 1924 textbook An Elementary History of New Jersey. Its lack of not only the discussion of slavery in the north, but the absence of the entire practice is the ultimate goal of the “lost cause”. It indicates the idea of the Klan using education as a way to indoctrinate young and new members, and this came at the price of editing textbooks to reflect their views on society. Textbooks and educational material would bear the scars from this alteration for dedicated to come.
The coming age of civil rights reform would attempt to distance itself from the past. The restructuring of this discussion of northern slavery is illustrated in the 1947 textbook American History. Its limited appearance shows that the topic once again rose into the discussion. From the perspective of a history teacher from the late 60s to the mid-1970s, coverage began to increase once again to a clear point in the late 60s as schools finally began to become more diverse due to an end of segregation. Northern slavery’s discussion then began to fall in the 70s as the civil rights movement would lose its ground in the years following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The discussion on northern slavery would reach a low in the 1980s and gets illustrated by the 1980 history textbook American History Review Text. It may call out the North but it shows clear evidence of promoting the “lost cause” mentality due to its racially charged language. The 90’s would see a rise in the discussion of northern slavery again as the discovery of the largest enslaved cemetery in the nation would be found under Manhattan. The depth of the discussion on northern slavery reached a height in 2006 with the American Pageant 13th edition. It includes a detailed section on slavery in New York and that the horrors of slavery were present in the north. It even details how northerners viewed the practice as unjust but did little to nothing to end it within their states while criticizing the south. From this height there is a dramatic fall in the 2013 edition of the same textbook. It led to the idea that slavery was small in the north and that it was far better in conditions than in the south. It also creates the illusion that it was abolished by the 1860s rather than continuing throughout the civil war. Lastly, we see a jump in the discussion emerging in 2016. The American Pageant textbook’s 16th edition rectifies this issue of a decrease in the discussion. It adds material from the 2006 edition and expands on the practice and conditions of northern slavery. It’s unclear what the cause of this shift could be, but one could only speculate it was done out of a response to the changing climates and the increased national discussion on the longevity of the impacts the institution of slavery had on the nation.
With these trends highlighted, it’s important to note that there has never been a steady teaching of the material. Teachers have struggled with finding ways to get the material across without creating unnecessary confusion. The importance of this subject is unparalleled as its atrocities have never truly been righted. The perpetuation of these trends creates a lost history of the horrifying events that unfolded beneath the feet of students. They can adequately describe the atrocities that happened in distant states but are oblivious to the same atrocities that happened only a few miles away. The lack of a focus or understanding of what happened in the backyards of both teachers and students alike truly creates and perpetuates the “the amnesia of slavery”.
There is hope however that this continuous issue does get brought to light in the classroom. The awareness on the part of the students and teachers alike can see an end to its repetition. Teachers bringing this issue to the forefront and explaining to students that slavery happened here, and that it goes undiscussed, may inspire students to speak up when this topic is left out. Activism on this issue is key to maintaining its presence in the classroom and that these forgotten lessons never become forgotten again.
Bailey, Thomas, David Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen. The American Pageant. 13th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2006.
Bailey, Thomas, David Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen. The American Pageant. 15th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2013.
Bailey, Thomas, David Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen. The American Pageant. 16th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2016.
Blight, David W. Race, and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001.
Gigantino II, James J. “The Curious Memory of Slavery in New Jersey, 1865-1941.” New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 6 (1): 35–55. 2020, Academic Search Premier doi:10.14713/njs.v6i1.188. Accessed 9/28/22.
Gigantino II, James J. The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
Gigantino II, James J.“‘’The Whole North Is Not Abolitionist’’.” Journal of the Early Republic 34 (3): 411–37. 2014, Academic Search Premier doi:10.1353/jer.2014.0040. Accessed 9/28/22
Gordon, Irving L. Review Text in American History. New York, NY: AMSCO School Publications, 1980.
Gordon, Linda. The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.
Jay, Bethany, and Cynthia Lynn Lyerly. Understanding and Teaching American Slavery. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2016.
Lapsansky-Werner, Emma J., Peter B. Levy, Randy Roberts, Alan Taylor, and Kathy Swan. United States History: The Twentieth Century. 19th ed. California. New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc., 2019.
Lapsansky-Werner, Emma J., Peter B. Levy, Randy Roberts, Alan Taylor, and Kathy Swan. United States History: The Twentieth Century. 19th ed. Texas. New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc., 2019.
Mydland, Leidulf. “The Leg of One-Room Schoolhouses: A Comparative Study of the AME…” European journal of American studies. European Association for American Studies, February 24, 2011. https://journals.openedition.org/ejas/9205.
New Jersey. Laws, Statutes, Etc. An act for the gradual abolition of slavery … Passed at Trenton . Burlington, S. C. Ustick, printer 1804. Burlington, 1804. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.0990100b/.
Pearcy, Mark, “We Are Not Enemies”: An Analysis of Textbook Depictions of Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War, The History Teacher, Volume 52 Number 4, Society for History Education, August 2019
Swinton, William. Swinton’s Condensed United States: A Condensed School History of the United States: Constructed for Definite Results in Recitation and Containing a New Method of Topical Reviews. New York, Chicago: Ivinson, Blakeman & Co., 1871.
Vikos, George and Greenstein, Andrew. Conversation at Marina Cafe, Staten Island NY, November 14th, 2022
Westminster Assembly. The New England primer improved: for the easy attaining the true reading of English, to which is added, the Assembly of Divines, and Mr. Cotton’s catechism. Boston: Printed for and sold by A. Ellison, in Seven-Star Lane, 1773. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/22023945/.
Wilson, Howard E, and Wallice E Lamb. American History. Schoharie, NY: American Book Company, 1947.
Wolinetz, Gary K., When Slavery Wasn’t a Dirty Word in NJ, New Jersey Lawyer, February 15th, 1999
Pearcy, Mark, “We Are Not Enemies”: An Analysis of Textbook Depictions of Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War, The History Teacher, Volume 52 Number 4, Society for History Education, August 2019, p.611
 Pearcy, “We Are Not Enemies”: An Analysis of Textbook Depictions of Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War, p.596
 Samuel Wood & Sons, Beauties of the New-England primer p.4-21
 Samuel Wood & Sons, Beauties of the New-England primer p.22-30
Westminster Assembly. The New-England primer improved: for the more easy attaining the true reading of English, to which is added, the Assembly of Divines, and Mr. Cotton’s catechism. Boston: Printed for and sold by A. Ellison, in Seven-Star Lane, 1773. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/22023945/ ,p.29-31
Mydland, Leidulf. “The Legacy of One-Room Schoolhouses: A Comparative Study of the AME…” European journal of American studies. European Association for American Studies, February 24, 2011. https://journals.openedition.org/ejas/9205.
Blight, David W. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001.p.255
Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory p.257
Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory p.287
 Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory p.283
Swinton, William. Swinton’s Condensed United States: A Condensed School History of the United States: Constructed for Definite Results in Recitation and Containing a New Method of Topical Reviews. New York, Chicago: Ivinson, Blakeman & Co., 1871, p. 235
 Swinton, Swinton’s Condensed United States: A Condensed School History of the United States p. 236
 Swinton, Swinton’s Condensed United States: A Condensed School History of the United States p. 288-291
 Swinton, Swinton’s Condensed United States: A Condensed School History of the United States p. 237
 Wolinetz, When Slavery Wasn’t a Dirty Word in NJ
 New Jersey, An act for the gradual abolition of slavery.
 Gigantino II, James J. “The Curious Memory of Slavery in New Jersey, 1865-1941.” New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 6 (1): 35–55. 2020, Academic Search Premier doi:10.14713/njs.v6i1.188. Accessed 9/28/22.
 Gigantino II, James J. “The Curious Memory of Slavery in New Jersey, 1865-1941.” p.36
 Gigantino II, James J. “The Curious Memory of Slavery in New Jersey, 1865-1941.” p.37
 Thomson, An elementary history of New Jersey P.v
 Thomson, An elementary history of New Jersey P.ix
 Thomson, An elementary history of New Jersey P.150
Gordon, Linda. The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2018. p.2
 Gordon, Linda. The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition p.65
 Gordon, Linda. The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition p.67
 Thomson, An elementary history of New Jersey P.iv
 Gigantino II, James J. “The Curious Memory of Slavery in New Jersey, 1865-1941.” p.36
In the Spring 2022 semester, Dr. Nancy Hagedorn of the Department of History led a group of history students to develop a Digital History of Slavery and Runaways in New York.
As part of the history department’s efforts to help students develop historical research and digital technology skills, students created an innovative, public history using arcGIS Story Maps.
The project was conceived as an applied history course to introduce students to digital history methods and techniques by focusing on New York runaway ads. The class began by reading about digital history and its methods and uses, and then extensively about the history of runaways and slavery generally. Finally, the class focused on slavery in New York and New York City specifically. To facilitate the class’ digital history research and answer questions about slavery and runaways in New York, members compiled a database of New York runaway ads using transcribed ads culled primarily from the Freedom on the Move database at Cornell University. The class input data on 641 runaways between 1730 and 1811, and also compiled census data on slaveholding in New York State using the Northeast Slave Records Index at Lloyd Sealy Library and John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
More information on the project can be found online.
The first Blacks arrived in New Amsterdam in 1626, imported from Africa as slaves by the Dutch West India Company. During the British occupation of New York City in 1776 the population soared after the Crown promised freedom to slaves who deserted their rebel masters. It resulted in thousands of runaway slaves flocking into the city. By 1780, there were more than 10,000 Blacks living in New York. Finally, in 1827, slavery was abolished in New York. But freedom did not necessarily translate into improvement in the lives of Black citizens.
The city, of course, was tasked with the education of all children; but integrated classrooms was not conceivable. “Colored schools” were established, staffed by Blacks. They were an offshoot of the first African Free School, established in 1787 on Mulberry Street. Seven Colored Schools were organized in 1834.
In 1853 Primary Schools No. 27 and 29 shared the new 25-foot wide building at No. 98 West 17th Street (renumbered 128 in 1868). Three stories tall and faced in brick, it had two entrances–one for boys and the other for girls–as expected in Victorian school buildings. In the basement was a small living space for the janitress, Mary Sallie.
There were four teachers in each school, all unmarried women. Their wages in 1855 ranged from $400, earned by H. A. McCormick (about $12,200 a year today), to the $100 salaries earned by Abbie M. Saunders and Eliza Ideson. How the women survived on the equivalent of $3,000 a year in today’s money is remarkable.
The street address was not the only thing about the school building that would change. By 1861 it was renumbered Primary School No. 14 (H. A. McCormick was still teaching here at the time), and within two years it became Colored School No. 7. That year it was staffed by seven teachers–four teachers in the Boys’ Department and three in the Primary Department.
By 1866 the name was changed yet again, now known as Colored Grammar School No. 4. Schools across the city staged a yearly exhibition of the children’s work and this one was no exception. On May 30 that year, the New York Herald reported “The exhibition of Colored Grammar School No. 4 took place last evening at the Cooper Institute. The audience was quite large, and included a few white persons, both male and female, and was well pleased with the exercises embraced in the programme.” The newspaper was careful to point out that the school was “formerly No. 7.”
Rather surprisingly, two specialized teachers were added to the staff in 1868. William Appo, a renowned Black musician, taught music and S. Anna Burroughs taught drawing.
Graduating from grammar school was an important milestone, especially for Black children who were often pulled from school in order to work and help their families financially. On March 5, 1869 The Sun reported “In Colored Grammar School No. 4, in Seventeenth street, Mrs. Sarah J. S. Thompkins, the principal, treated her pupils to an inauguration celebration. Remarks were made by the Rev. Charles B. Ray, Fred Sill, C. E. Blake, Jacob Thomas, and William F. Busler.”
The position of music teacher was taken by Joan Imogen Howard, who came from Boston, Massachusetts. Like William Appo, she was recognized as an accomplished musician. She was as well an ardent worker for integration and racial rights. On October 30, 1892 The World reported “Miss J. Imogen Howard, the only colored woman on the Board of Lady Managers of the [Chicago] World’s Fair, is busily engaged in gathering statistics concerning colored women in New York State.
Reflecting the innate racism of the time, the reporter asked Howard if it was possible for a Black woman to become a member of “the learned professions here.” Her reaction was visible. “Miss Howard looked surprised,” said the article. She replied “I know of a great many. In Brooklyn there are three doctors, each of them enjoying a large practice and doing well…I am personally acquainted with one colored woman who graduated from law school with honors…Miss Ida B. Wells, a young colored girl, is assistant editor of the New York Age, a weekly paper devoted to the interests of the colored people.” She went on to list a number of other successful professional women.
In 1873 the attendance of Colored School No. 4 was 120 pupils. The school building was showing the effects of two decades of use. An inspection by the School Board that year found in part: “ceilings cracked through and need repairing; ventilation by windows; water closets of wood, in poor condition; heated by seven wood stoves, properly shielded with tin.”
The tin-lined flues of the cast iron stoves would cause problems at least twice. On January 6, 1879 The New York Evening Express entitled an article “Scared Colored School-Children” and reported “A defective flue caused a fire this morning in Colored School No. 4, at 128 West Seventeenth street. The fire occurred just before the assembling of the school, and a panic was thus averted, although the children collected around the building were considerably frightened.”
It may have been that incident that prompted Principal Sarah J. S. Garnet to routinely instruct the pupils on how to react to a fire. (Sarah Garnet was the widow of the Rev. Dr. Henry Highland Garnet, the former Minister to Liberia.) It proved to be worthwhile instruction. On February 14, 1883 The Sun reported that another flue fire had broken out.
At around 10:30 that morning children on the second floor noticed wisps of smoke “and became restless.” Mrs. Garnet told a reporter “I had frequently told the children that if fire broke out they would have sufficient warning from me to enable them to walk safely out of the school building. Their faith in me is what saved them from a panic.”
There was a total of 150 children in the building. Garnet instructed a teacher to arrange the pupils on the second floor in straight lines, while she went upstairs to do the same with the youngest children. “At a signal the pupils marched down the narrow, wooden stairways and stood quietly in the inner court yard.” One child ran three blocks to the nearest fire station. The fire was quickly extinguished and the pupils were marched back to their desks. “They were as busy in the afternoon as though nothing had happened,” said The Sun.
In 1884, Joshua S. Lawrence published an article in Ballou’s Monthly Magazine entitled “The Negroes of New York.” He praised racial advances, beginning, “What a contrast between now and twenty years ago! Then they were vassals, now they are clamoring for the offices and other perquisites of a free government.” His out-of-touch assessment was highly biased and he insisted “The negro in this city is not debarred or hindered in any way…Their children are allowed to enter public schools all over the city, besides having separate ones, taught by their own teachers.”
The article pointed out that integration was slowly coming about. “In order to show that the color line is breaking in this regard, an idea encouraged by the Board of Education, is not to take notice of complaints when two or more negro children happen to be near the offspring of some fastidious parent.” Lawrence mentioned Colored School No. 4, saying it combined “both primary and grammar,” levels.
At the time of the article the prospects for the school were dim. The Board of Education had already proposed closing the school. The minutes of the Board of Education on March 5, 1884 documented the receipt of a petition “From the Teachers of Colored Grammar School No. 4, asking that said school be continued for a longer period than that assigned by the action of the Board in 1883.” The petition was forwarded to the Committee of Colored Schools. Its decision was no doubt disheartening.
The teachers were permitted to continue to teach “in other premises than the school building, but without incurring any expense on the part of the Board.” In other words, if the teachers wanted to continue the school, they were responsible for all aspects of it, including funding.
But there was obviously a change of heart. The facility continued, now known as Grammar School No. 81. Sarah J. S. Garnet was still principal, and Joan Imogen Howard was still teaching here in 1892. Another inspection that year reflected the poor sanitary conditions. It said “the sinks are defective and cannot be cleaned and flushed regularly. The closets [i.e. toilet rooms] are not ventilated, but are filled with sewer gas and foul air.”
The push to discontinue the school in the 17th Street property continued. In December 1894, Mayor William L. Strong received a resolution from the Board of Education “requesting the sale of property No. 128 West Seventeenth street.” By the following year, the building was unoccupied.
Finally, on March 24, 1896 the City signed a deal with the Civil War veterans of the 73rd Regiment to lease the ground floor as its clubhouse. Four months later renovations had been completed and on July 6, 1896 the New-York Daily Tribune reported “The members of the Veteran Association of the 73d New-York Volunteers-2d Fire Zouaves–held a celebration in honor of the opening of their new headquarters, No. 128 West Seventeenth Street–the old schoolhouse.” Among the entertainment that night was John J. Moloney, who “gave his bone solo, which elicited much applause.”
The club rooms were decorated with war relics, perhaps the most significant of which was the first Confederate war flag captured by the North. On March 11, 1907 The Yonkers Statesman explained that it had been taken by Corporal Daniel Boone on May 2, 1862 at Yorktown, Virginia. Interestingly, the city retained possession of the old school house property. On January 19, 1921 The City Record announced that renovations would be made “to properly place the premises…in a state of occupancy for the Veteran Fire Association.” The 73rd Regiment Veterans remained in the ground floor while $5,000 was spent in renovations on the upper floors for the Veteran Fire Association.
The new residents renamed their portion of the building Firemen’s Hall. Like its downstairs neighbor, it was a social club. On February 17, 1923, for instance, The Brooklyn Standard Union reported “The Veteran Firemen’s Association held its annual banquet last Saturday night, at Firemen’s Hall, 128 West 17th Street, Manhattan. There were 300 members and their guests present, and it was a most unique affair.” The two organizations remained in the building at least into the 1930’s. A renovation in 1931 made “general repairs to the toilets, urinals and all the fixtures.” The building was later acquired by the New York City Department of Sanitation, which utilizes it today. At some point a veneer of yellow brick was applied. Remarkably, the small paned windows survive. The little building with its remarkable history is easily passed by today with little notice.
Thinking and Teaching the Implications of Federalist #10 for Democracy
When I picked up my copy of Federalist #10 to begin writing this article, I was stunned by the subtitle: “The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection.” Despite my 30 years of teaching this document, the emotions that welled up in me upon reading “Insurrection” were a shock. These are hard times. That the present shapes our understanding of the history we study was brought home to me with new force.
Knowing that Shays’ Rebellion was a cause of the calling for and high attendance at the Constitutional Convention, and the prominence of the phrase “to insure Domestic Tranquility” in the preamble, helps explain what the framers thought was at stake in 1787. As a high school teacher, I always spent 10 or 15 minutes parsing the meanings of the preamble, but even though I taught the Constitution more than 150 times over the years, I never felt the depth of those words as I do at this time. The January 6, 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol by followers of Donald Trump puts us in a situation James Madison would recognize. Donald Trump and his followers have been frightening us every day for years now. It is time to analyze the most famous of Madison’s Constitutional commentaries: Federalist #10. This essay is addressed to teachers.
This article is in two major parts: An analysis of Madison’s Federalist #10 on his terms in the first section, which is a pared down student-led lesson, and a second section which builds on the first to critique #10. Usually historians and political scientists refer to the electoral college as the major anti-democratic feature of the Constitution, but in Federalist #10 Madison, as you will see, had fundamentally no respect for the will of the of the people. He baked this idea into his theory of the republic.
That final section takes on the chimerical idea of the (single) public good and Madison’s outright rejection of “the people themselves” to protect the government from dangerous majorities. In 2022 the white supremacist Republican Party has ditched democracy and gerrymandered Madison’s constitutional structure. We are on the brink of a fascist takeover. These contradictions could not be compromised away in 1787 and cannot be smoothed over in 2022. “The Miracle in Philadelphia” nearly failed as a system on January 6, 2021. Democracy cannot be defended by depending on a group of men of “wisdom” to lead us to control “the mischiefs of faction.” Instead we need majority rule.
Part I: Federalist #10 taken on Madison’s terms
When I assigned Federalist #10 I asked the students to download and read the document. They were required to choose two sentences from the beginning, three from the middle, and two from the end of the document. As I have explained in detail in “The Tarzan Theory of Reading,” on my Substack site, the students were to single out sentences with which they agreed or disagreed strongly or those that they thought were important and explain why. The students will lead the discussion with their questions, comments, and the sentences they choose which they will read out loud to the class. In addition, I asked them to identify the sentence that was at the logical center of the argument in Federalist #10, which has an elegant architecture.
When I began the class, I asked for questions or comments. Students often made comments on the definitions of faction or insurrection, which is now a term many students will encounter in the news. The definition of faction is “a majority or minority… opposed to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” The students will come up with the common term “special interest,” but how can that be a majority? This is key problem with Federalist #10, since Madison’s understanding of the term faction is not intuitive. The students may object that the Constitution describes a democracy: does not the majority rule? You should put that idea in a separate list on the board and leave it until the end of the discussion (we will discuss that separate list of ideas in depth in the Part II critique). The students know that Shays’ Rebellion (1786 – 87) was an insurrection, an attempt at the violent overthrow of a government.
Majority faction is itself a contradiction that can be addressed by working through Madison’s series of subtopics: the climate of disorder in the country, his diagnosis of factions the proposals to eliminate them, or to control them, and a critique of his solution. Although the discussion will jump around the document, as the students volunteer their sentences those subtopics will organize the notes as we go along.
Disorder in the country
Shays’ Rebellion was a major factor in Madison’s concerns. The students will know that indebted farmers in western Massachusetts denounced unaffordable taxes and complained that they were losing their mortgages to foreclosure. Daniel Shays was a Revolutionary War captain who led his followers to attempt to close the courts to prevent the foreclosures. In addition, they demanded representation equal to the proportional per capita representation in the east close to Boston. After the rebellion was quashed, Shaysites were elected to the Massachusetts legislature. Another problem was that the rebellion was a protest against unfair taxation reminiscent of the protests in the 1760s and 70s. It reminded many leaders in Massachusetts of the lead-up to 1776 (similarly, some of the insurrectionists in 2022 used 1776 as a threatening slogan). This armed insurrection was a major cause of the convening of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, because the Articles Congress had no power to raise an army directly: the state had to defend itself along with any allies it could muster.
Madison describes how, in his view, the public good was being ignored. “The friend of popular governments” opposes the “violence of faction” which causes “instability, injustice and confusion.” There are “overbearing” majorities that cause “ governments” to be “too unstable” because they do not respect the “rights of the minority,” and governments controlled by “specious (unsupportable) arguments” causing “mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished.” Madison blames the “factious spirit that has tainted our public administrations.”
Madison’s definition of faction
“By faction I understand a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole who are united and actuated by some common impulse or passion or of interest adversed (sic) to the rights of other citizens or the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” If a student chooses this sentence, you have to be careful to explain each part of the definition. I ask, “How do you explain this definition?”. Eventually the students come to realize that Madison expected that the people would support particular conclusions (how else could he call it a majority faction?). How could a leader find “the permanent and aggregate interests of the community,” I ask. This should also go in the Critique section for discussion. The rest of Federalist #10 discusses how to eliminate factions or how to control them.
This is the first of the methods to secure the government against the “mischief of faction.” There are two methods to eliminate factions: destroying liberty or giving everyone the same opinions. The students will then come to the conclusion that restricting liberty is not possible in a democratic government because we depend on freedom of thought and action to maintain democracy.
The second method, giving “everyone the same opinions,” is also an impossible solution because “as long as man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.” I ask, “How do you understand that?” Here, students might note Madison’s identification of opinions based on “self-love,” the diagnosis that “reason is connected to passion” and the observation that “Diversity in the faculties of man” were factors in the differences of political opinions.
The rights of property and the ownership of different kinds of property and the faculties to obtain those kinds of property all cause divisions. “Faculties” seems to mean “abilities,” students will likely conclude. So, Madison describes it thus: “(t)he latent (underlying) causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man.” It soon becomes clear that Madison was not making an argument for the change in distribution or the control of production or property or goods in the U.S. — Madison was not a Marxist! Instead, the students will conclude that Madison was attempting to find ways to manage the political effects of that inequality or those differences. But in whose interest did he want to manage those inequalities: was it to be a country of the enslaved, the ordinary people, or did he favor his class of the southern gentry?
Controlling the effects of faction
“The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed and that relief is only to be sought in controlling its EFFECTS.” In the ensuing discussion students will come to the conclusion that this sentence begins the second half of the argument. It is the sentence at the logical center of the argument. Here Madison turns to the idea of controlling the effects of factions instead of eliminating them, and eventually introduces the republic as a solution.
“If the faction consists of less than a majority” voting, the “republican principle” is the remedy. There might be disagreements, but majority rule does offer a solution. Therefore, what to do about a majority faction is the most intractable problem. Someone is likely to pick the sentence: “To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a (majority) faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.” The ensuing discussion can conclude that it is a thesis sentence pointing to the chief point of the whole article.
The “existence of the same passion in the factional majority” must be prevented or “the majority must be rendered unable to concert. When people “concert” they work together. Madison is actually opposing the rule of the majority here. A pure (direct) democracy in which the citizens are the legislature “can admit of no cure” for “the mischiefs of faction” because “the common passion or interest will in almost every case be felt by a majority of the whole and there is nothing to check… an obnoxious individual” or group from influencing everyone.
In a republic as envisioned by Madison, however, “the representatives refine and enlarge the public views by passing through a medium of a chosen body of citizens whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country (my italics).” He added, “the public voice pronounced by the representatives of the people might be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves.” Here Madison added the idea of making the republic cover larger areas. He suggests that by “(e)xtend(ing) the sphere — you take in a greater variety of parties and interests (and) you make it less possible they will concert….” The conclusion of this part of the argument can lead to a choice of more famous and experienced statesmen who possess the “wisdom” referred to above, because the a large number of voters would be participating in a larger district, the chances if a more famous or experienced person (i.e. of wisdom) would be greater.
Finally, “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states.” He uses religious sects, a rage for paper money, and abolition of debt as examples that are more likely to “taint a particular county or district than an entire State.” These are some of Madison’s most famous statements. The students will see that the purpose of representation and extending the area of the republic was to elect men of wisdom. The factions may cancel each other out or the men of wisdom will convince the other legislators to follow the “true ideas” of the public good because ordinary people cannot end the controversy. Madison and his fellow leaders will decide for them.
Madison’s essay seems clear as a the ringing of two groups of bells: There are two groups of opposing solutions: Eliminating Factions or Controlling its Effects. Each has two methods of solution: He moves through the ideas with alacrity going from one solution to another. The logic is stunning and elegant, like a mathematical proof.
Part II: A critique of Madison’s argument
Now we have to confront the sentences we have put aside or left without exploring thoroughly, in particular the idea of the majority faction: “By faction I understand a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole who are united and actuated by some common impulse or passion or of interest adversed (sic) to the rights of other citizens or the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Eventually, the students will conclude that a majority vote is not what Madison is seeking as a solution to the problem of the majority faction. Somehow the government must override the majority.
Another example of Madison’s majority problem: The “public voice pronounced by the representatives of the people” might be more consonant “to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves.” The students will determine that Madison is counter-posing the representatives to “the people themselves.” Representatives certainly do not have to vote by taking instructions from their constituents, but it is clear that Madison is trying to circumvent the majority. Why would a legitimate republic be so designed? When we discuss this idea the students reach the conclusion that he does not trust the people to make the right decisions. It is obvious from the sentences that are there for the choosing.
Another of Madison’s sentences expresses the same contradictory view: “To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a (majority) faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.” What, students may ask, is the “public good” other than the will of a majority? If you have not yet discussed “public good,” it is an opportunity to discuss the major contradiction. When the students analyze this, discussion is not done until students understand that although Madison seems to be arguing the solutions benefit all the people, he is claiming the right of the elite to decide for the majority, which citizens are going to benefit.
Eventually the students reach the conclusion that everyone does not have the same interests in society or that the public good may change. It is not clear how to determine the public good, or that the public good can be expressed as a singular rather than a series of public goods. Madison believed, however that the public good was not only attainable, but a key factor in overcoming the mischiefs of the majority faction. Do we really think that the Constitution has been a success for all the people as Madison designed it and the conventional wisdom in the US has always assumed?
Now we have entered a realm of ambiguity and contradiction. Madison’s elegant proof, which seemed so clear, becomes murky, and most importantly, unreachable by the majority of ordinary men — or women! I ask, “How do you understand this “public good” now?” The students will determine that not all people under the Constitution have the same interests as propertied white men. There are women and Black people and the poor and wealthy. In 1787 these individuals were not all formally part of the political community. The First Peoples, “not taxed,” were excluded from representation by the clause on taxing and the 3/5th clause. The Black underclass in the U.S. has been living without the protection of the law for the vast majority of American History; much of white America seemed to only discover the true level of relentless and widespread violence against Black people on May 25, 2020 — the day of George Floyd’s murder. Madison had been fine with slavery and its terrible consequences; violence against Black men and women was not a new development.
The interracial uprising that resulted was unique. They were the largest multiracial demonstrations ever in the US. The violence against Blacks has been a dark undercurrent in the US since the ratification of the Constitution. What is the public good? Do you think now that Madison was protecting the whole people as he implied in paragraph after paragraph by calling his goal the public good?
Now we come to the final sentence in the statements we have put aside for critique. When Madison brought up the danger of Shays’ Rebellion, he blamed the eastern leaders of Massachusetts for the unequal taxation, which caused the rebellion. The western farmers rebelled against the unfair taxation as they had in the 1760s and 70s. Madison commented: “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm,” i.e. elected to office.
These men on whom Madison depended must convince the other representatives and the senators that they know the public good better than the people themselves. Are these people philosopher kings who see the reality in Plato’s cave? Or are they advocating legislation based on the general will in the theory of Rousseau? The general will is discerned outside of debate, and expresses the “true will” of the people. This ability is a “faculty” of enlightened statesmen. It depends not on majority vote but on “the permanent aggregate interests of the community” or the “public good,” determined by the men “whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country” in Madison’s phrase. These men of the “better sort” must convince other legislators to follow their lead. What in Madison’s argument places these statesmen in power, I ask. The students eventually identify the layering that takes the decisions out of the hands of the direct voters who have elected men of deeper perception or who represent more conservative interests that protect the government from the “vexed,” the poor or the enslaved, in other words, the factions born of ambition race, and class. These men can find the public good for the benefit of the permanent aggregate interests of their countrymen. But as I stated at the outset such a belief is a chimera.
How can we call the history of the US a long story of a developing public good for all the people when the 3/5th Compromise was in effect until it was repealed by the 14th Amendment in 1868, when the large white population of the North overwhelmed the slaveholders’ advantages, and up until the Civil War the small population states controlled the Senate with the help of the “dough-faced” northerners who voted with the South in the Senate and the House? These all acted together to repress democratic solutions to slavery and keep women, the poor and the First Peoples in literal and virtual shackles and chains.
When the slave power was overthrown and the Reconstruction Amendments were passed after the Civil War, there was a brief period from 1866 to 1877 when a fragile interracial democracy existed in the South, which for a time kept the Republican reformers in power. But then violent mobs attacked and killed Black Republican voters, overturned that hard won peace between the races, and Blacks lost suffrage in nearly the whole South. White supremacy ruled again until the Civil Rights Revolution capped by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 produced a second period of Black and minority participation.
Now we are in a different era in which our political life has also been commandeered by white supremacy in the form of Republican re-districting in the states so, despite the large populations in the Democratic-controlled states, the Democrats have only bare majorities in the House and only the tie-breaking vote of the vice president in a 50-50 Senate. Democratic senators represent 41.5 million more Americans than the Republicans. These are problems quite different from Madison’s majority factions. It is minority rule that the majority cannot use the “republican principle” to “cure.” It is a deadlock caused by the filibuster and the small population states, which have controlled the Senate since they were born in the Great Compromise. Madison’s “Machine that Would Go of Itself” has been rejiggered. There is a fascist threat to democracy led by the followers of the former President. Madison’s governmental structure has been under threat by these insurrectionists and the democratic traditions have been undermined to the breaking point. It is unclear whether democracy shall survive the next election, let alone the ones after.
The call in Federalist #10 for the protection of the public good and for the permanent and aggregate interests of the community was based on the will and experience of a minority Madison called the “enlightened statesmen,” who protected slavery for the white majority. The white majority in the country is now disappearing and the movements to defend the “historical white republic” are threatening the lives of workers, women and all minorities. This is our problem now, and it is rooted in the ideal of the public good which Madison believed he and other enlightened statesmen could conjure up to protect the true interests of the “whole” community. He fought to maintain the rule of people like himself. There was no working compromise between the interests of slavery and freedom, or today between the evangelical radicals opposed to abortion and advocates of women’s rights, or between the refusal of the rights of the poor to health care and advocates of Medicare for all, or finally, the interests threatening the rights to clean air, water, food, and jobs and the movement for a Green New Deal. The Electoral College and the unrepresentative Senate must not control our politics. We are at a crossroads.
The myth of the “divinely inspired” Constitution has sustained Madison’s reputation of infallibility, but the flaws in his reasoning, as we have pointed out, have come to haunt us and brought us to the brink of losing our democracy. What, after all, is the public good if it does not represent a clear majority of the US population? As the students realized in their analysis there is no single or public good. We are a country of classes, races and genders. We should not be controlled by rich white men or their MAGA insurrectionists. We are still being ruled by the magical thinking of former centuries, from ancient Greece to the early modern concepts of the virtue of the white landed aristocracy. All this is embodied the persons of senators from states with populations smaller than assembly districts in New York or the city of Washington DC. These modern-day conservatives talk about the Constitution as a document describing a republic, not a democracy. They believe that the proper leaders of this republic are the whites: the real Americans. This idea brings us back to the earlier argument concerning the dangers of reaching for the single public good or the “permanent aggregate interests of the community.” The chimera of the public good turns out to be a smokescreen for white supremacy — as it always was. No amount of leisure or learning can motivate the white supremacists to discern the true interests of our country; they are in it for themselves.
For my entire career, I have taught at public high schools in the South Bronx, the poorest Congressional District in the United States. Many of my students come from low-income families, face stressful circumstances outside of school, and have a history of below level academic performance. Most of my students are identified as struggling readers and several are classified with special learning needs.
In my teaching, I employ a version of Critical Social Theory to directly challenge the social reproduction aspect of education that would channel students into lives on the margins of poverty and to empower them to seize control over their lives. Everything about history and society is analyzed, nothing is accepted on face value; everything is dissected by students to uncover the individuals and groups that benefit from the way society is organized. I agree with Lisa Delpit, who defined the structures of power in society as a system of hierarchy that necessitates the participation of some and the exclusion of others. Delpit also argued, “if you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier.” This means that for students to receive a complete education, they need to be aware of, analyze, and critique all of the forces that shape their education, their communities, and their lives.
Critical theorists argue that education should guide students towards political activism and that teachers should be models for their students of active citizens exercising their democratic duty. As a critical educator, my primary goal in the classroom is to promote critical thinking through political discourse and by encouraging students to translate their ideas into action through some form of activism. My teaching involves the recurrent use of projects, alternative assessments, semi-structured learning, promotion of classroom dialogues, student voice, and the development of classroom community. My approach to teaching even includes the way I structure the physical classroom. Desks are organized into a large square that takes up the entire room. This arrangement removes hierarchy by taking the teacher out of the front and allows students to speak to each other and the teacher on an equal social footing.
While I follow the New York State history curriculum scope and sequence, I begin units with student analysis of current events. That helps them connect themes and issues with the specific historical period they are studying. In their analysis of current events, students already have some familiarity with military conflicts, climate concerns, prejudice and inequality, and government responsibility, so these topics spark student interest and lead to engaged classroom dialogue. Students delve into a topic and connect what they are learning about to their own lives. Content is delivered and then evaluated through student and teacher presentations and an examination of primary and secondary sources. I try to present material as much as possible using different platforms including photographs, artwork, movie clips, music, poetry, charts, graphs, and text. Working individually and in groups, students conduct additional research on topics and formulate theories to explain the historical record. Some topics end with renewed discussion of contemporary issues and ideas for participating in current campaigns to redress inequality and injustice.
According to a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), during the 2015-2016 school year, over 10% of American high schools subjected students to random metal detector searches at school entrances and another 6% conducted airport-style metal detector searches on a daily basis. Most of these schools were in urban areas and a majority of their student population was Black and Latino. Calls for installing metal detectors at schools usually spikes after a mass shooting, although these incidents have not been at urban and minority schools.
New York City pioneered the use of metal detectors in schools in the late 1980s and the 1990s. A majority of the metal detectors currently in use were installed after a series of incidents involving students with weapons. Until recently the policy was rarely revisited and no procedure was in place for ending scanning at a school building once metal detectors were installed. During the 2010s, over 100,000 New York City students, mostly in high schools with overwhelmingly Black and Latino student bodies, lined up to be pass through metal detectors before entering school every day. The New York Civil Liberties Union argued that the metal detectors “criminalize” students in largely minority school. Its advocacy director, Udi Ofer, proposed that the “Metal detectors should be used as a last resort, and for a limited time.”
In 2015, some New York City officials began to question the policy. Councilmembers Vanessa Gibson and Corey Johnson introduced legislation to require the Department of Education to report on the number of schools where scanning took place and the number of students who were being scanned. In support of the bill, Councilmember Brad Lander, argued: “There is an absence, a really embarrassing absence, of a New York City Department of Education policy around metal detectors. Telling our young people that we look to them as potential criminals in the schools that have metal detectors does more harm than good.” Yet five years later in 2020, metal detector placement and policy in New York City was unchanged.
Dennis Belen-Morales, a student at Alfred E. Smith High School, agreed with Councilmember Lander and the NYCLU and decided to launch a campaign to have metal detectors removed from his school. Dennis spent a Christmas vacation researching the Department of Education metal detector guidelines, a research adventure that included a trip to its central headquarters. He also spoke with the principal of one of the city’s new, small, high schools that had a similar student population to Smith but was located in its own building. That school had no metal detectors. The principal told Dennis, “What do we look like? The airport? Our students are already minorities, we don’t want them to feel like criminals too.”
Dennis was startled to discover that there actually was no formal metal detector policy and was furious about the irrationality of the entire system. Following his investigation, Dennis started a Change.org petition that he directed to the city’s Mayor. In the petition, he wrote, “I am always hassled when entering the school facility, I am always told to remove all metal objects from my pockets and place them in my book bag, to remove my belt, and to place my boots through the machine. While entering the school building, I feel like I am entering a penitentiary. I feel as if my high school is preparing me for prison, when it is supposed to be ushering me into adulthood.”
As a follow-up to the petition, Dennis and a classmate organized a forum on metal detectors in schools that was attended by students from other schools and a representative from their local Congressional Representative’s office. At the forum, students talked about the importance of school culture. They felt if a school had a culture of violence, metal detectors might be necessary. But students and teachers at Smith and in other schools had created a climate of caring and concern. They called it a team culture. But the city had no policy in place to remove metal detectors when a school’s culture no longer warranted them. Since Alfred E. Smith is a vocational school, students don’t have to smuggle weapons into the building. If they wanted a weapon, they could find one in the shop classrooms.
The campaign by the Smith high school students stalled in September 2017 when an eighteen-year old student in a different Bronx high school stabbed two students in his class, prompting demands for more airport-like metal detectors in schools. Dennis had a very different reaction to the incident than that expressed in the local media. According to Dennis, “Metal detectors might prevent actual weapons in a classroom, but they cannot prevent a student from doing harm to another. When pushed to their limit, a student can either find a way to bring in a weapon or use something available within the school. Smith is an automotive school and we are in possession of very dangerous equipment every day. All an angry person needed to do was grab something from a shop class.” When they became seniors, Dennis and classmates in a Participation in Government class, decided to make one more effort to have the metal.
I have been teaching history on the secondary and college level for almost thirty years. Much of this time has been spent as a teacher on Long Island, New York where my area of expertise has ranged from contemporary issues and criminal justice to leading the International Baccalaureate program in history in my current district. As a trained historian, educator and administrator I bring all of these mindsets to my curriculum and pedagogy.
In considering the question of how one addresses attempts to suppress or inhibit teaching I believe it is essential to first discuss one’s understanding of the discipline of history, why we teach it and how we teach it. Why do we ask students to take a history course? I believe the most important function of history education is to establish the foundations for informed democratic citizenship. In the primary grades, students develop a narrative of U.S. history and at the secondary level they acquire the tools to examine and critically analyze that narrative. This critically thinking student is empowered and encouraged to then articulate multiple narratives which reflect our pluralistic society. Education is no longer a hierarchical relationship between the teacher and student, but a collaborative relationship where knowledge can be nourished and exercised through regular open discourse.
When I first engage students in my classroom, too many of them assume that history is a set narrative with established facts that must be memorized. Very few students like history. Many adults I meet say they hated history class as children but now appreciate it because they finally see its utility. It is not their fault; as that educational experience is the rule for most of us, rather than the exception. For me, it wasn’t until pursuing my graduate degree in history that I was truly engaged in thinking and acting like a historian. I quickly learned that the historical narratives we tell are governed by time and place, by the perspectives of the historians and their audience, and by the availability of evidence. Historiography, or the study of how history is written, tells us that this process of continuity and change results in fantastic disputes among scholars; disputes that rarely trickle down to the high school classroom. For many, this critical history is not welcome in the classroom because it is perceived as being “too hard” or “too nuanced for the high school student”. Since “that’s not going to be on the test” it is deemed irrelevant, or worse yet, an expression of the teacher’s political agenda.
I do have a point of view. I want my students to take a seat at the historians’ communal roundtable, use the critical thinking skills particular to history, and contest our curriculum. By acknowledging the role of race, gender, class, ethnicity and every other “divisive” lens students confront the fullness of our sometimes painful past and forge a meaningful place for their own individual narrative in our shared story. For much of my career this approach to history education was not controversial but encouraged and valued as an essential component of civics education.
When I first started teaching history I was asked to create and implement a course in Multiculturalism. This course was initiated in response to racial and ethnic tensions in my district. This senior elective was seen as a corrective to those divisions. There was a desire to confront racism, ethnocentrism and sexism head on. While this was a challenging course, I felt fully supported by my administrators to engage my students with challenging readings and to moderate discourse which was frequently impassioned, sometimes tense, but ultimately a source of greater understanding and community building.
Since 9/11 the question about what should be taught in a history classroom became more problematic. With so many of my students’ families directly or indirectly affected by 9/11, history was no longer a distant topic. One had to regularly question how your topics and discussions might upset students or community members. I began to introduce trigger warnings into my practice as a way to acknowledge students’ emotional challenges, sensitively modify my instruction, but not silence necessary discourse.
With the election of President Obama the issue of race became more problematic but not one to be avoided. In my economics and history classes I freely used the PBS program entitled “Race: The power of an Illusion”. This program and its complementary website provided interactive resources which challenged student preconceptions about race and how it has influenced government legislation and programs in the 20th century. Students were challenged to critically examine, discuss and assess the subject matter. Although this curriculum demanded careful implementation, I never felt significantly anxious about the curriculum or my pedagogy. I never experienced any negative feedback or reproach. When I consider using those resources today, a paralyzing doubt stops me. Even though my graduate mentor and acclaimed historian Ira Berlin is a source in the program, the current political educational environment stops me from freely using him. Why? The website explicitly addresses the structural and historical nature of racism. Simply put, I would be targeted as a practitioner of critical race theory and pilloried.
If I were to teach the transformation of my pedagogy I would ask my students to identify a chronology of contributing factors. I would introduce the following: the emergence of Donald Trump as the voice of the Republican Party, the 1619 Project, the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Covid-19 Pandemic. When the 1619 Project was published in August of 2019 I was excited by the opportunity to introduce a reframing of American history. The beginning of my year focused on having students examine, discuss and evaluate the use of 1619 and 1776 as the defining dates in our national origin story. Excerpts from Nicole Hannah Jones’s introduction, as well as the rebuttal by Marxist and conservative historians were considered. We replicated the debate that ensued among historians. Students were not insulted, nor did they feel bad about themselves or experience any less pride as Americans. What they did do was engage in a lively critical discussion. With this introductory unit I sought to establish the transitory nature of history and the importance of critical thinking. I was neither worried or challenged by this lesson.
This, of course, is not the world we live in today. As 2019 turned into the presidential election year of 2020, the critical engagement of race became much more politicized. Still, I did not veer away from the lens of race as it is a foundational factor for historical inquiry, especially American history. After four years of the Trump Administration’s attack on evidence-based reasoning, the engagement of history became much more problematic. The normalization of framing evidence that you don’t like as fake by politicians and members of the media on both sides of the political spectrum impacted the classroom. Students would actually respond to historical evidence and claims in class with “fake news” as a silencing response. When silence is the aim, discourse itself is the problem. As a practitioner of critical thinking and discourse, my pedagogy became increasingly problematic. By 2021, I would become a target in our contemporary political culture wars.
As a teacher of the two-year IB History of the Americas curriculum, we examine U.S. history in year one and the emergence and consolidation of 20th century authoritarian regimes in year two. As I was teaching the Reichstag Fire and Hitler’s Enabling Act the January 6 insurrection took place. The continuity of this contemporary event and our historical inquiry provided a teachable moment. Students read contemporary German authors’ examination of American events from their unique historical perspective. The narratives were examined, interrogated and disputed. The sources were used to stimulate discussion, not as an equation of Nazi Germany 1931 and the United States 2021. I believed that I had a responsibility to my students to address what was happening around them, but felt that I had to mediate it through the lens of the past. Unfortunately, silence, self-censorship and discomfort became an unwelcome norm. I increasingly incorporated student writing in private blogs so that they could safely and critically engage history and contemporary events. Increasingly, I, too, self-censored in response to my discomfort. In speaking with colleagues both in the United States and on international IB web spaces, the professional fear was palpable. Was it possible to address these momentous events or was it best to safely stick to the proscribed curriculum? While many departments worked collectively to navigate a response, many others avoided discussion and left pedagogic choices to the conscience of individual teachers. In collective avoidance of this thorny issue, many hoped to protect themselves from acrimony.
Ultimately, the practitioner of critical pedagogy will be targeted by those who choose to close the door on the past, no matter how carefully they tread. My public crucible was in response to a lesson which asked students to assess the impact of racism. I did not feel comfortable or safe directly addressing the George Floyd/Derrick Chauvin trial but I did feel a professional responsibility to address the deep threads of racism and division. As a way to displace the dialogue, I focused on student generated claims which judged quantitative analysis to be more objective and useful than qualitative analysis. I asked students to apply these lenses to the impacts of racism. Students did engage in critical discourse, but what I found is that many do not want critical discourse to be taking place in public schools. If we cannot engage in critical discourse then we as educators have lost our most important teaching tool.
In historical retrospect, what have I learned? I would like to say that the experience of having my curriculum and pedagogy subjected to media and community scrutiny and attack would energize my efforts as a democratic educator. The reality is not so heroic. Much like the American Revolution, ⅓ of my professional and personal community supported me, ⅓ actively opposed me and ⅓ avoided me at all costs. This did not surprise me. When nations slide towards authoritarianism, teachers are often the first targets. The public attack on my pedagogy made this slide harder to deny and avoid. It made all teachers the target.
As teachers we are public figures who are under incredible pressure and scrutiny. One can hope to lay low and never make a mistake or misstep. One can stick to the text and avoid anything that hints of controversy, but this is not tenable. I came into education with a toolbox. The tools have evolved over time, but their purpose remains the same. My use of these tools in our current climate is much riskier. My curricular choices are more conservative, I hesitate to bring contemporary documents into our discussions of the past. I speak obliquely and ask neutered questions. To do differently is too charged, too dangerous, and too divisive but I must also acknowledge that there is a point at which I cannot surrender who I am as a critical educator. History itself calls on me to hone my critical pedagogy for these challenging times. The risk of not doing so is too great. The challenge for today’s social studies educators is how to cultivate democratic students in a world that is increasingly opposed to democracy? I do not have a singular answer, but I commit myself to seeking new methods and mediums so that we as social studies educators can reject complicity and collectively facilitate the better angels of our nature.
The attack on Critical Race Theory is creating controversy in education. For the first time in my professional career, I am apprehensive about teaching any subject having to do with race, religion, Blackness, Whiteness and all things cultural. Why? The simple answer lies in the attempted coup of education by some parents over their misunderstanding about Critical Race Theory and conflating it with Culturally Relevant Teaching. IT IS being used as a political ping-pong, mainly by the Republicans to erase parts of American history that mainly deals with the cruelties of slavery and mistreatment of people of color. While apprehensive, I remain true to history and will always teach as I have been doing for the past 20 plus years.
I have been an educator for 21 years. I began my teaching career in East New York, Brooklyn, as a middle school Social Studies teacher at one of the lowest performing schools in New York City. Regardless of the school’s low performance status, my students were some of the smartest and kindest I have ever taught. They were aware of the shortcomings of their reality. They knew the truth and were not afraid to voice their opinions, good, bad or indifferent. It was fun and challenging teaching them, but they took their agency, no one had to give it to them. After a year in Brooklyn, I left in 2000 to teach conversational English in Tokyo, Japan for a half year and returned to East New York for another year. The past two decades, I have been in the Uniondale School District. I took a sabbatical in 2016 to teach in the United Arab Emirates, where I taught Humanities to Arab, continental African, Canadian, South American, and Indian middle school scholars at American International School, Abu Dhabi. This year, I am teaching African and Latinx History to upperclassmen and Global History to 9th graders in Uniondale High School.
In my years as an educator, I have assisted and led many activities and events outside of the classroom; most notably, a student forum on police brutality in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting back in 2014. I also created a girls Rite of Passage program in 2004 at one of the two middle schools in Uniondale. When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, I assisted the Uniondale High School in planning a “controversial” inauguration assembly in recognition of the first African American elected President of the United States. The program was considered “controversial” because a number of white teachers objected and boycotted the event.
I have also worked with Dr. Alan Singer, professor at Hofstra University, for many years. I asked him to lead a discussion on the complexities surrounding the Iraq war back in 2003 to my middle schoolers and he was the keynote speaker for a forum held between two racially segregated communities, Oceanside and Uniondale. We discussed police brutality and other racially charged issues on Long Island in 2015. The discussion of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the absence of weapons of mass destructive also produced heated faculty blowback.
I have immersed myself in “controversial,” or as I would prefer to call them, “contemporary issues” my entire career. I am finding that in this day and age, the topics I chose to cover back then would be considered blasphemy today. For example, Bridges was created to foster empathy, and collaboration amongst White, Black and Hispanic students who live in neighboring communities, attend different schools, and have little contact with each other. It is the goal of the program to engage students in the evaluation of contemporary issues related to race, economics, and politics that will lead to well-rounded, active, and engaged citizens. In Bridges, difficult conversations are encouraged and the asking of challenging questions is nurtured. Divergent points of views are not shunned with the understanding that students can agree to disagree with civility. In this program we have discussed the January 6th insurrection, the legacy of segregation on Black and Brown communities, cross-cultural experiences of Black and White students, and other contemporary issues that would make those who dislike Critical Race Theory very uncomfortable.
Back in 2014, when I decided to do the forum about police brutality in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting with my Participation and Government scholars, I did not think of the backlash or its “controversial” nature. I thought about the hopelessness I saw in my students that September. They looked at me as just another teacher. It was as if they gave up on learning and embraced the Read, Answer Questions, Pass a Test and Repeat pedagogical style. But, little did they know, I was not that teacher, I have never been that teacher. Recognizing this hopelessness in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting prompted me to change the way I would teach this course. As it was my first time teaching the course, I wanted to make it real for the students. After all, it’s a “Participation” in Government class. I took that term “participation” literally and decided they would be active, as opposed to passively learning in this course. Therefore, learning through doing became one of the goals. Their hopelessness from my perspective was due to the way the year began, with the shooting coupled with normal senioritis and a genuine boredom for all things related to school. Therefore, empowering their voices became my mission, and so I challenged them to put on a forum on police brutality. After all, our early ancestors, who created great civilizations in Africa, Greece, Rome and the Americas, held forums to gauge the feelings of their subjects on controversial issues. Furthermore, forums give voice to the voiceless and empower citizens to take further action. To me this is how a democratic society prospers; it actively engages young people early on.
Gone are the days of sitting in the class and taking notes on how great democracy is when in reality my students were not having, or seeing, that same example in their day-to-day lives. In their world, fairness was a fairytale. To them education was boring and they were tired and ready to graduate and join the rest of humanity in the rat race called life. However, I refused to let them leave in this manner. I was, and am, still very idealistic and optimistic about education and what it can do for young people charged with taking over, ready or not. Nonetheless, I charged them with putting on a school-wide forum on police brutality. They were very reluctant at first, as they were not used to being placed in leadership positions. But I assured them that the worst that can happen is the principal says no and then they don’t have the forum, but they had to ask first. They asked and to their surprise, not mine, the principal agreed. My principal at the time, was very supportive of student engagement. Having a strong principal makes a world of difference for a teacher like me. She was not afraid to support any program or event that gave students a voice. Again, as their teacher, my concern was not the backlash. My goals were to help them love learning, give them agency and have them practice their voice.
In preparation for the forum, they researched about the Civil Rights Movement and the history of police brutality in America. I felt they needed to see the trend, be informed, and be armed with solid information when they spoke in front of their peers. I wanted them to be confident when they took to the stage. I wanted them to lead. Many scholars are not given the tools to be leaders in real world scenarios. It was important to me to have these non-AP scholars lead an academic forum in front of their peers who only saw them in non-academic settings. These were scholars that always got in trouble; they were not jocks or honor students, just “regular,” sometimes forgotten people. I wanted them to be heard and seen, as they have something to say and lots to give.
All of the above were also my goals in starting the Rite of Passage program. These were also my goals when I decided to be the first advisor of the Bridges High School program. I believe giving scholars the opportunity to lead and participate in real world scenarios makes education palatable – it makes it real. As with science and math, many scholars ask, “When will I need this in real life?” Some teachers are able to show the why and some aren’t. These days however, STEAM and STEM have become the norm. As a history teacher, Historical and Civic Literacy is just as important as STEAM and STEM to me. Making space for these contemporary issues gives students agency and time to hone their Social Studies skills of argumentation, observation, listening, speaking, analyzing, synthesizing and application.
When I started the Rite of Passage program some ten years ago in my district, it was to help girls of color, especially darker hue girls, accept themselves in a world that constantly ignores them. Another goal was to help girls get along better, to learn how to respect each other despite their difference in hair texture, complexion or whatever else distract girls from being their best. While I did not see this program as controversial, today it seems as though it is. With the Crown Act being passed in California and other states, African textured hair seems to be a problem in the workplace and in schools. Girls of color are 5.5 times more likely to be suspended from school, starting in pre-school. Programs like the Rite of Passage aim to reveal the controversial issues that plague Black girls. Many of the girls I had in the program have since graduated college and are well into their careers. I have received Facebook posts and text messages from them referencing our time together and how impactful those times had on them then and now.
Simply put, I am an educator who does not shy away from contemporary topics or historical controversies in and out of the classroom. My goal has always been to make sure scholars love learning and intrinsically love the art of learning about themselves, within the context of mirrors, windows, and glass sliding doors. I also aim to instill the love of learning in order to help them make their communities a place they are proud of and value. My upbringing in a Jamaican-Nigerian household has strongly shaped my approach as an educator. I also received these messages from my upbringing in my African American community after moving to the United States in 1987 from Nigeria.
Curriculum focused on Culturally Relevant Teaching is under attack and it is being interwoven in the debate about Critical Race Theory. While some elements of culture are in Critical Race Theory, the philosophy was not intended for K-12 education. When parents fail to understand the importance of creating safe spaces for scholars to speak about controversial issues or contemporary issues, it marginalizes young people of color. For instance, White teachers make up 79% of the teaching staff across America, and Black and Hispanic teachers make up less than 5% of the teaching staff in predominantly white schools. Where is the diversity of thought when scholars graduate from high school? How are students of color being taught, let alone having their issues addressed in forums or in the classroom? When does a white child meet or interact with a Black or Brown teacher? These are questions that need to be raised in education. But how can we discuss these and other topics when Critical Race Theory is being conflated with Culturally Relevant Teaching and anything having to do with race or culture is seen as divisive rather than an integral part of progress? School is the place to teach and grapple with controversial topics in a responsible way, of course. The attacks on Critical Race Theory and Culturally Relevant Teaching are making it harder to teach controversial topics in history as well as put on programs about contemporary issues as I have done in the past, creating a tense environment to discuss these topics freely and responsibly. I am afraid educators like me will continue to be apprehensive about teaching subjects having to do with race or spear head programs that raise contemporary issues. I am afraid that the attack on CRT will take over education and take us back to a time when teachers wrote notes on the board, students copied, memorized information, did not or could not ask questions, took a test, barely passed and moved on to the next grade anyway. This type of “teaching” has not been productive, especially in Black and Brown school districts. As a result of this style of pedagogy, if you can call it that, our Black and Brown scholars have been mislabeled, wrongly disciplined and have been marginalized from the curriculum. Really, they are just bored and uninterested in an education that fails to recognize them. As educators we have a responsibility to speak up and not allow the attack on Critical Race Theory to lead us back to the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s when schools did not address the academic needs of Black and Brown students, but instead disproportionately placed them in SPED classes and suspended them in droves, creating the school-to-prison pipeline that so many in education reference today. All students really need is a true education.
Has anyone questioned your citizenship? Has anyone ever said to you, “You don’t belong here. Go back to where you came from!”? Meaning you are not an American and should go back to where you came from. This happened to me often in Eastern Washington where I grew up, yet if I was to go back to where I came from, that would have been Seattle, Washington, where I was born. Why didn’t other youngsters think of me as an American? I could also be an immigrant who became an American like Wing Luke, who was the first person of color elected to the Seattle City Council.
Race is a powerful element of American society. People judge others based on their skin color, physical characteristics, stature and cultural practices. I am Japanese American and many of the young people I grew up with did not think of Japanese Americans as Americans. I was seen as a foreigner and so did not belong in the United States, though I lived in the state of Washington all of my life. I wish there had been a book like I am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story so their teachers could read it to their students. The book is about how Wong Kim Ark went to court and fought for his right as an American citizen.
In 1873, Wong Kim Ark was born in San Francisco, California to parents from China. Chinese immigrants suffered much prejudice living in California. His parents left San Francisco in 1890 to go back to China while he stayed with relatives in California. Wong Kim Ark visited his parents in 1894 on a temporary trip. When he returned to San Francisco, he was not allowed to enter the United States because officials said he was not a citizen. He was put in prison because of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Law that did not allow Chinese workers into the United States. Lawyers sued to get him out of prison in district court.
At that time Wong Kim Ark was about 21 years old. He argued that since he was born in San Francisco, he was a citizen. Members of the Chinese community pooled their finances and hired several lawyers to represent Wong Kim Ark. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that due to the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, since Wong Kim Ark was born in the United States, he was a citizen even though his parents were from China.
The Supreme Court decision of Wong Kim Ark is important because often race is used as an obstacle in establishing citizenship for other Asian Americans and people of color. The Supreme Court ruled that birth in the United States establishes citizenship. The Wong Kim Ark case supports his statement of “I am an American.” Even after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kim Ark, he had to carry a certificate of identity “to prove he was an American.” Racism was still strong in the United States.
This is an excellent story to read to children to show that the United States is a diverse country, and its citizens are members of many different ethnic and racial groups. Every student and teacher should know who Wong Kim Ark is and how he helped to establish citizenship rights for people of color in the United States. Most learners and educators do not know about the contributions that many Asian American and Pacific Islander people have made to our civil rights.
Consider purchasing this book for your children or educators. There should be more AAPI role models presented in school. This book is an exceptional resource. There is additional information about the case at the end of the text. The timeline of historical events is especially informative. It includes dates about Wong Kim Ark’s life and different immigration legislation. As Wong Kim Ark said, “I am an American.”