The "Great Unity of the Texts Has Broken": Representations of Black Slavery in U.S. History High School Textbooks

Publication Year



U.S. History, textbooks, black slavery, slavery in America, abolition


African American Studies | Education | Social History | United States History


"At this juncture in our history, when is it necessary for every American to develop new attitudes, new understandings, and a new commitment to the rooting out of discrimination and segregation, the Advisory Committee makes it clear that there can be no question that the serious deficiencies of the textbooks in this regard represents a formidable obstacle to the development of school curriculums that reflect this society's pluralism and its multicultural and multiethnic character."

This remark was made in 1968 by a committee commissioned by the Department of Education for Michigan with regard to twelve textbooks they had analyzed. The name of the report was "A Report on the Treatment of Minorities in American History Textbooks." Michigan's legislature had just passed the Social Studies Textbook Act, which had the goal of setting standards for the textbooks that would be adopted by the state's school districts. In order to set those standards, the committee commissioned a panel of historians to evaluate the textbooks most widely used in the state and give an assessment of the treatment of minorities in those textbooks. After the historians submitted their comments, the committee concluded that all twelve textbooks were completely deficient in depicting minority's roles in the shaping of the United States; and more specifically, the African American's role. The one area they found most abysmal was the treatment of slavery. One historian concluded that some of the history textbooks were "shockingly casual about one of the most momentous events in our history, the establishment of slavery in the English colonies."

Department 1 Awarding Honors Status


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