History Textbooks in the Jim Crow Public Schools of Alabama
History textbooks are and have always been political.
During the Jim Crow era in Alabama, the textbooks used in the public schools reflected the vision of a southern women's organization concerned with advancing a pro-Confederate understanding of the American Civil War.
Established in 1894, the United Daughters of the Confederacy devoted its energies and efforts to "tell of the glorious fight against the greatest odds a nation ever faced, that their hallowed memory should never die."  Their primary activity was to support the construction of monuments and instilling the Lost Cause through the education of the living monuments–subsequent generation of white children. Determined to assert their cultural authority over virtually every representation of the region's past, the UDC women wrote and promoted pro-Confederate history textbooks assigned in the segregated Jim Crow public schools. As a result, textbooks and controlling narratives about the Civil War and its legacies shaped how Alabamians learned the historical past.
For several decades, Charles Grayson Summersell’s “Alabama History for Schools” introduced ninth graders to accepted Lost Cause and UDC approved teachings of American history. Drawing on previous textbooks written by Albert B. Moore and L. Lamar Matthews, Alabama public school districts continued to use revised editions after desegregation and well into the 1970s and 1980s. In addition to reading the textbook, Alabama public school students completed exercises in the companion workbooks for the Summersell and later the Harry M. Joiner textbook published in 1980.
In an excerpt from the 1957 “Alabama History for Schools” workbook, suggested group activities included discussing “Why did the South lose the War Between the States?” and even developing public talks about the following Reconstruction topics: “The Freedmen’s Bureau,” “Union Leagues,” “Carpetbaggers and Scalawags,” “The Ku Klux Klan,” “The Knights of the White Camelia,” and the “The White Man’s Movement.”
In an excerpt from the 1961 “Alabama History for Schools” workbook, there is overlap with the suggested group activities. Fill in the blank exercises for “Chapter 17-People During Slavery Times” had students identified the historical era where “the slave was almost better off than free laborers, white or black, of the same period,….” Other activities suggested students “conduct a mock rally similar to the real ones which were conducted during the Kolb-Oates campaign.”
With desegregation, the companion sample workbook for the Harry M. Joiner’s Alabama’s History: The Past and Present (1980) had students identify the “Union officer [who] burned the University of Alabama in 1865” as well as Civil Rights Movement achievements, including the “first black woman to attempt to enroll in the University of Alabama” and the “first black graduate of the University of Alabama.”
Collectively, these textbooks and companion workbooks shaped generations of Alabamian schoolchildren educated during and immediately following the Jim Crow era.
Consequences for African American Education
African American children also learned these UDC-approved Alabama history lessons in the discarded used textbooks from the white public schools. African American educators supplemented these works with alternative course materials and curricula created by Carter G. Woodson and the members of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (currently known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History). The Journal of Negro History, and other materials served to combat the negative consequences of the textbooks on African American children enrolled in the segregated Jim Crow schools. African American teachers also promoted Black History as both American and World History in their annual Negro History Week celebrations which included pageants and lessons appropriate for the annual theme. Their efforts, however, could not prevent Jim Crow-era school children’s exposure to these lessons aimed at sustaining the Lost Cause and racial hierarchies.
Some African American families retained their textbooks and even donated them to archival repositories. The Schaudies, Banks and Ragland Collection included a copy of the 1952 Alabama history textbook alongside portraits documenting military service in World War I and World War II, family correspondence, and other archival materials detailing the prominent Black Alabamian families. The manuscript collection (MSS-4190) and digitized portraits reflects how some African Americans combatted the Jim Crow stereotypes through educational attainment, military service and living middle-class lives.
This excerpt from the L. Lamar Matthew’s History Stories of Alabama (1952) reveals the lessons taught to Black Alabamians. Interestingly, the military contributions of the family, the accolades of the Tuskegee Airmen and general African American experience during the second World War is absent.
 Quoted in Kevin Waite, "The 'Lost Cause' Goes West: Confederate Culture and Civil War Memory in California," California History 97 (Spring 2020): 36-37.
- Fred Arthur Bailey, “The Textbooks of the ‘Lost Cause’: Censorship and the Creation of Southern State Histories,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 75, no. 3 (Fall 1991): 507-533.
- W. Fitzhugh Brundage, The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005).
- Karen Cox, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservations of Confederate Culture (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003).
- Jarvis R. Givens, Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2021).
- Harry M. Joiner, Sample Workbook for Alabama’s History: The Past and Present (n.p.: Southern Textbook Publishers, c. 1980).
- L. Lamar Matthews, History Stories of Alabama (Lincoln: The University Publishing Company, 1952).
- Jeffrey Aaron Snyder, Making Black History: The Color Line, Culture, and Race in the Age of Jim Crow (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2018).
- Charles G. Summersell, Frances C. Roberts and Sarah Huff Fisk, illustrator, Exploring Alabama to Accompany Alabama History For Schools (Birmingham: Colonial Press, 1957).
- Charles G. Summersell, Frances C. Roberts and Sarah Huff Fisk, illustrator, Exploring Alabama to Accompany Alabama History For Schools, 1961 Edition (Northport, AL: Colonial Press, 1961).
- Kevin Waite, "The 'Lost Cause' Goes West: Confederate Culture and Civil War Memory in California," California History 97 (Spring 2020): 33-49.