“We Learned Our Lessons Well”:

Kristina DuRocher

in Raising Racists

Published by University Press of Kentucky

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780813130019
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813135571 | DOI:
“We Learned Our Lessons Well”:

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The emergence of the New South after the Civil War brought forth some innovative ideas about education and schooling in the region. White southerners refocused their education system by formalizing teacher training and creating an educational bureaucracy that allowed the creation of textbooks and reading materials that idealized the antebellum South, especially regarding race and gender roles. In these books, African American men were portrayed as either a “Coon,” “Sambo” or “Uncle Tom” – all three stereotypes represent black men as lazy, easily frightened, inarticulate, and unintelligent. On the other hand, adult black women played the role of “Mammy,” a maternal figure who cared faithfully for her white family and, in doing so, sacrificed her sexuality. Nowhere in these books was there ever any mention of the achievements of any African Americans. To prevent “improper” literature from reaching white children's hands, the school boards in the South created a suggested purchase list for public schools. Thus, schools became agents of socialization, and their choices reinforced the dominant cultural values of white society. There are a few novels, however, that offered counternarratives that humanize African Americans, pointed out the ironies of Jim Crow race relations, and illustrated how, by subtle ruses, an underling could gain a measure of power. While the works of Mark Twain and Joel Chandler Harris on the surface appear to reinforce white supremacy, a careful analysis would reveal an alternative discourse that could open the eyes of both white and black children to dissenting narratives about race within the plantation genre.

Keywords: New South; antebellum South; white southerners; educational reform; textbooks; school boards; white supremacy; African American stereotypes; counternarratives

Chapter.  11010 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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