South Carolina’s History Curriculum on Slavery Is Appalling

The United States is having a conversation about race, racism and history that’s long overdue, confronting the legacy of the Civil War and the fact that it was never truly put to bed. The nation went from slavery to Jim Crow to sundown towns to voter suppression to racial profiling, in no small part because it refused to have the discussion about race that it needed to have. That’s a problem evident across both North and South, both of which have problematic histories with race, but South Carolina in particular is at the core of the discussion after an act of violence by a white supremacist killed nine people at Bible study at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, S.C.

When you start to examine the curricula used to teach history in South Carolina, you can start to understand why the state has such difficulty addressing racial issues. In the context of how and when students learn about slavery and its relationship with the state and U.S. history in general, the state’s persistence in displaying Confederate iconography, profiling Black communities, and engaging in voter suppression makes an eerie kind of sense. Until South Carolina’s standards for education in history are adjusted, the state will continue to experience deeply troubled race relations.

While teachers develop their own curricula and lesson plans in South Carolina, they are required to teach to state standards that are used to determine the content of annual statewide testing. This puts teachers interested in teaching on broader subjects in a bind, because they have to race through history education in order to cover all the subjects students will be tested on. With a mandate to teach U.S. history from early colonization to the present, it’s extremely challenging to go into the depths of specific historic eras, and slavery in particular is one that’s often left out.

Official guidelines from the state paint slavery in a vague light, discussing it in a mostly passive way and largely dodging the subject. Colonizers, including slaveholders, are primarily viewed positively in the state’s guidelines, reinforcing the idea that the colonization of the Americas resulted in a net positive, and skipping the role of slaves across the Americas and the Caribbean. The problem is compounded with proposed lesson plans provided as tools to help teachers explore history with their students, like this one, which celebrates colonial achievements without very much nuance.

One lesson plan, for instance, insists that the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery — something historians would disagree with. The same lesson plan bemoans the loss of capital and labor that followed the abolition of slavery, and explained that white plantation owners struggled to find fieldhands and other workers once they no longer owned slaves to perform that work — even their wives suffered, evidently, as they had no more “domestic help.” Another presents secession as an exercise of states’ rights and little more, although it does at least confess that the South sought secession in response to discussions about abolition.

Without more context about the dark periods of their state — the standards devote a great deal of time to the Second World War and not very much to desegregation or the civil rights movement, for example — students in South Carolina will struggle to understand the world they’re growing up in. Without that information, the next generation will have difficulty confronting racism and making critical social and political changes.

In a critique at Spiegel, Markus Feldenkirchen draws upon the experiences of Germany to examine the problems with America’s race relations. Germany famously has a very aggressive, in-depth history curriculum that examines the events of the Second World War, the rise of white supremacy, and the country’s role in the deaths of millions of people. Germany also has very strict hate crimes laws and stringent requirements when it comes to education, forcing Germans to confront, rather than avoid, their history.

Every nation has dark spots in its past,” he writes, “and nowhere are those spots darker than in Germany. However, the greatness of a country is reflected in how it deals with this past and whether it critically examines it. In this respect, the United States is not the great nation it believes itself to be.”

His sharp words are a rebuke to the United States in general, but they also provide a possible example of one crucial step in addressing race relations: education. States, and the national government, should be looking at German curricula as a model for developing American educational standards in a way that directly engages with slavery, Jim Crow, and other racist legacies.

Photo credit: Francisco Osorio


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

No one in the US really teaches history anymore, and what they do teach is half truths and untruths. Young adults don't really know anything about the past unless it is their own.

Will Rogers
Will Rogers3 years ago

All our ancestors were monsters, deplorable human beings, cold hearted despicable racists. They should be reviled. My ancestors were your ancestors. They wiped out the Native American red Indians, and the ones that were left were herded into concentration camps. The biggest case of ethnic cleansing ever.
They had the largest and most well organised trade in African slaves ever! And for some reason they are proud to be Americans? Why? Why exactly? Are they just plain crazy? What is so good with being constantly at war with someone in the world? And why are the offspring and beneficiaries of those monsters still acting that way to the offsprings of these hard done by people. Being non white in the US must feel like dying and going to hell. Their hatred is not worldly.

Barry S.
Barry S3 years ago

The Confederate Flags have as much Legal Right to be Displayed on Public land as the United States Flag.

Barry S.
Barry S3 years ago

Confederate Iron Cross
(US Statutes at Large Volume 72, Part 1, Page 133-134)
The Administrator shall pay to each person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War a monthly pension in the same amounts and subject to the same conditions as would have been applicable to such person under the laws in effect on December 31, 1957, if his service in such forces had been service in the military or naval forces of the United States.
General Robert E. Lee Remarks: While this was only a gesture since the last Confederate veteran died in 1958, it is meaningful in that only forty-five years ago (from 2003), the Congress of the United States saw fit to consider Confederate soldiers as equivalent to U.S. soldiers for service benefits. This final act of reconciliation was made almost one hundred years after the beginning of the war and was meant as symbolism more than substantive reward.

Additional Note by the Critical History: Under current U.S. Federal Code, Confederate Veterans are equivalent to Union Veterans.

Researched by: Tim Renick, Combined Arms Library Staff, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Barry S.
Barry S3 years ago

Here is some History that people seem to be ignoring

As a country we no longer respect the dead. We no longer respect history. As the Native Americans learned long ago, federal promises mean nothing.

Congressional Act of 9 March 1906
We Honor Our Fallen Ancestors
(P.L. 38, 59th Congress, Chap. 631-34 Stat. 56)
Authorized the furnishing of headstones for the graves of Confederates who died, primarily in Union prison camps and were buried in Federal cemeteries.
Remarks: This act formally reaffirmed Confederate soldiers as military combatants with legal standing. It granted recognition to deceased Confederate soldiers commensurate with the status of deceased Union soldiers.

U.S. Public Law 810, Approved by 17th Congress 26 February 1929
(45 Stat 1307 – Currently on the books as 38 U.S. Code, Sec. 2306)
This law, passed by the U.S. Congress, authorized the “Secretary of War to erect headstones over the graves of soldiers who served in the Confederate Army and to direct him to preserve in the records of the War Department the names and places of burial of all soldiers for whom such headstones shall have been erected.”

Remarks: This act broadened the scope of recognition further for all Confederate soldiers to receive burial benefits equivalent to Union soldiers. It authorized the use of U.S. government (public) funds to mark Confederate graves and record their locations.

U.S. Public Law 85-425: Sec. 410 Approved 23 May 1958

Confederate Iron C

Kamia C.
Kamia T3 years ago

I am now completely convinced there is simply NO history book that accurately tells the truth in the U.S. Just look at how the expansion of the country by raping the lands of First People's is covered.

Kathy M.
Kathy M3 years ago

I am a History buff. I think we do not learn enough about U S history in school, unless you take a course on it. But to understand what is going on today we all must learn from the past. The country was torn in half with the civil war, it put brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor.
Roughly 1,264,000 American soldiers have died in the nation's wars--620,000 in the Civil War and 644,000 in all other conflicts. It was only as recently as the Vietnam War that the amount of American deaths in foreign wars eclipsed the number who died in the Civil War.

The War was ended and soldiers from both sides were allowed to go home. It was a different nation. But things didn't change that much. We are still fighting for equal rights in this country. But as long as there is hatred and bigotry this fight must go on.

Kathryn Irby
Past Member 3 years ago

As one who has lived for years on end in Alabama AND Mississippi, trust me! It's nothing I have heard before! Thank you

Beth Wilkerson
Beth Wilkerson3 years ago

Love it that we are getting really good advice from a German historian