When I toured the new Charles B. Aycock exhibit at UNCG a couple of weeks ago, it wasn't quite done. One unfinished display that I wish I could have seen was a short video that showed how the former N.C. governor was portrayed in North Carolina textbooks over the years.
Katherine Simmons and Lacey Wilson, the two history grad students who were my tour guides that day, said the textbooks changed their stance on Aycock over the years. First the textbooks praised him for his support of the 1900 suffrage amendment. Then they were more neutral, neither praising or condemning him. Today’s textbooks are more critical of one of the key architects of North Carolina’s 60-year system of white supremacy.
I was thinking about this evolution when I saw this story over the weekend in the N&R’s sister paper in Richmond:
In 1957, Fred Eichelman began teaching seventh-grade history in Roanoke County. He was using a shiny new state-commissioned textbook.
It wasn't long before Eichelman and even some students noticed some peculiarities.
The textbook said slaves were happy, often referring to them as servants. It glorified Confederates. And it said precious little about women beyond Martha Washington and Pocahontas.
"It makes you wonder how we got so many Virginians, with so few women," quipped Eichelman, now 82.
The story takes a deep dive into three textbooks that were used throughout my home state of Virginia from the 1950s to the 1970s. Not surprisingly, the books presented topics like slavery, the post-bellum South and Robert E. Lee in, ah, creative and unusual ways.
I don’t have any larger point here besides this: If you’re the kind of person who’d read a blog post about Charles B. Aycock and textbooks, you’d probably like this story from the Richmond paper. So go check it out.
One warning: Steer clear of the comments. There are some doozies in there.