Category: Race in Alabama
Slaves in Alabama could thank their masters for providing them with one of the earliest versions of social security, according to a ninth grade textbook used for more than a decade in public schools.
The textbook — Charles Grayson Summersell’s “Alabama History for Schools” — dismissed realities of slavery, glorified the Confederacy and defended deeds of the Ku Klux Klan.
Summersell’s textbook was the ninth grade companion to Frank L. Owlsey’s “Know Alabama,” written for fourth graders. In addition to repeating much of the same Lost Cause ideology, the two esteemed authors shared similar career paths, which included serving as chair of the history department at the University of Alabama. They influenced tens of thousands of grammar-school children, high school and college students, and professors.
Both authors also drew from predecessors such as Alabama history textbook writers L.D. Miller, Albert B. Moore, L. Lamar Matthews and others for a now-disputed version of history repeated for about seven decades.
Teachers were still using Owsley’s and Summersell’s books after classrooms were widely integrated in the late 1960s, and they continued to use revised editions well into the 1970s. The later editions toned down the contention that slaves were mostly happy and contented. Read more.
More about textbooks with pro-slavery messages used to teach Alabama students.
Textbook ‘Know Alabama’ Justified Slavery, Praised Confederacy to Schoolchildren
The year was 1961.
As the Freedom Riders crossed the South in their fight for civil rights, schoolchildren in Alabama were reading about the bright side of slavery and the contributions of the Ku Klux Klan.
They were taught these lessons from “Know Alabama,” the standard fourth-grade history textbook in the state’s public schools. The book informed baby boomers and Generation Xers from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. Some of those students became the teachers who taught subsequent generations.
Both white and Black children were instructed from “Know Alabama” that plantation life was a joyous time and slaves were generally contented. They read that Confederates were brave heroes, and Reconstruction was a terrible time when carpetbaggers, scalawags and illiterate Blacks corrupted the state.
Today, with factions across Alabama caught up in a clash over the meaning of Confederate monuments and symbols, many are debating the true history of the South. Is it the version that Black Lives Matter protesters shout in the public square or the story taught in Southern schools during and after the fight over segregation?
The “Right to Breathe Caravan” toured several north Birmingham neighborhoods Saturday, calling for environmental and racial justice in communities that have faced decades of industrial pollution. Read more.
The Alabama Legislature adjourned in 1900 so the United Daughters of the Confederacy could convene its national convention in the state Capitol.
The women sat just steps away from the spot where Confederate President Jefferson Davis took the oath of office 39 years before.
“You stand before the world the living witness that the past is not dead, but all in it that was good and great and true still lives and has its worshipers,” Marielou Armstrong Cory told the UDC in her opening address. “To you the selfsame welcome of the heart goes out as went that day to Jefferson Davis, the martyr chieftain of our sacred cause.”
That sacred cause — or Lost Cause — is a legacy of the UDC that critics say amounts to whitewashing the history of a slave-owning South.
Today, hundreds of UDC Confederate monuments are under attack as Black Lives Matter activists target them in protests against the killings of unarmed black men by white police officers. While monuments endure until a mob or mechanized crane removes them, historians and academics say the UDC holds a more lasting and insidious influence over generations of minds in the South.
A descendant of Emma Sansom said members of Sansom’s family support removing a Confederate monument in Gadsden that memorializes their ancestor.
The statue of Sansom near City Hall has become a target for conflict between Black Lives Matter protesters and counter-protesters. The fray began with national protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed May 25 by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
Sansom is a heroine of Confederate lore for her role in helping rebel Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest capture Union Col. Abel Streight and his brigade in 1863. Streight appeared to have escaped Forrest’s pursuit across north Alabama by crossing and then burning a bridge spanning Black Creek at Gadsden.
Chants of “black lives matter” and “take it down” echo across the courthouse square.
Protesters wave signs and shout their disapproval of an anonymous Confederate soldier, immortalized in monument and towering over them.
This is not Birmingham or Mobile or some other urban center of Alabama with a core population of black residents. This is Florence, tucked away in the remote northwest corner of the state, with a population that is 75% white.
The protests from more populated Southern cities are filtering down to the hinterlands, with people in smaller and sometimes more conservative cities such as Florence, Gadsden, Anniston, Opelika, Jasper, Athens, Selma and Tuskegee showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Hundreds of people gathered at Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park on Friday to commemorate Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery.
Onoyemi Williams is with the group Alabama Rally Against Injustice. She said after weeks of protests and demonstrations, today is a celebration of Black lives.
“Because when you’re at war, you must take the time for self care and celebration,” she said. “We’re celebrating where we’re at so we can prepare for where we have to go.” Read more.
In the wake of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and others, countless white people across the county have experienced a social awakening.
Judy Hand-Truitt isn’t among them.
The 72-year-old Center Point resident has been socially awake from her youth and four years ago established White Birminghamians For Black Lives to protest racial injustice.
The racially mixed group marched regularly at Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park until the pandemic made their marches less frequent. Its most recent march was Friday, May 29; its next march will be Friday, June 26. Read more.
Shawn Fitzwater admits he had little hope of his suggestion of a “Black Lives Matter” street mural coming to fruition.
“Really,” the professional painter said today, “not at all.”
But the suggestion from Fitzwater and another individual will likely be a reality by the end of today. Work began Wednesday on the street mural, on First Avenue South between 16th and 17th Streets, where “Black Lives” has been painted in bright yellow paint.
Today, the final word of the phrase is going into place as a second coat is applied to the first two words. The aim is to complete the project in time for Juneteenth festivities in Birmingham. Read more.
DOUBLE SPRINGS — As racial tensions burn across the United States and protesters in the South pressure officials to remove Confederate symbols, all is quiet on this northwestern Alabama front.
No one is trying to tear down what may be the most unusual courthouse monument in the state, a statue called Dual Destiny that features both Confederate and U.S. flags.
Perhaps the design of the monument makes it more palatable to current values. But the lack of conflict also may lie in the fact that only 124 of the county’s estimated 23,968 residents are black.
Roger Hayes, himself serving in a dual role as County Commission chairman and Haleyville barber, said residents are proud of their monument and their heritage of supporting the Union during the Civil War.