There’s a grown adult in the state legislature who had no idea what the middle passage was until another state rep. explained it to her last year. This took place in broad daylight on the House floor during a debate over what history should be taught in public schools. Whether Rep. Valarie Hodges thought the middle passage was the 2nd act of a play or something else, who knows. But what we do know is that she had no idea that it was that trek across the Atlantic Ocean where white people chained black people to the bottom of ships and dragged them to the so-called new world to work and die as slaves on plantations. Our Louisiana legislators need a history lesson.
Thanks to the new Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) social studies standards, no future adult will ever wallow in that much ignorance. Starting in the 6th grade, students will begin learning about the middle passage and other in-depth aspects of slavery. To ensure this, state Rep. Royce Duplessis has submitted HB 798 this legislative session. If passed, the bill would prevent BESE from watering down the new social studies standards when it comes to African American history. It would also prevent any public school, charters included, from watering them down or refusing to teach them.
“It’s a positive step in the right direction,” Duplessis said. “We need to teach African American history.”
Duplessis’ bill is not to be confused with the present Critical Race Theory paranoia that’s sweeping the nation. There are no clauses in the bill that say white kids have to embrace white guilt or walk around with privilege stamped on their foreheads. “All my bill says is that we’re not deviating from the state standards,” Duplessis said. “I don’t think that’s controversial.”
BESE updates those standards every 7 years. This year, the update just so happened to come about during a time when Republicans here and nation-wide are over-reacting to the tactics of a few over-zealous teachers. If those teachers have gone too far trying to make white kids aware of their privilege, Republicans have gone just as far in trying to white-wash the country’s history.
During a tantrum on the House floor last legislative session, state Rep. Ray Garofalo said if we’re going to teach about slavery, we should teach the good, the bad, and the ugly of it. He immediately tried to walk back that Freudian slip. Probably Rep Garofalo recognizes no good in slavery. But he insists his “good,bad ugly” standard is appropriate. So if that standard applies to slavery, then it also applies to the history of this country.
According to BESE standards, 2nd grade students will begin learning about the founders of our great country. By the time they graduate, they’ll have gone through the not only the history of this country but this city also. Here are a few important facts to consider -the good, the bad, the ugly – starting with the founders.
Our Louisiana legislators need a history lesson about America’s founding fathers
George Washington was the country’s first president. He was a great leader who fought to free the colonies from the British rule. And he set an political standard that all presidents have tried to emulate. George Washington did this while holding 123 people captive on his Mt. Vernon plantation. Those people were black. They were called his slaves.
Thomas Jefferson was our 3rd president. He’s famous for being the country’s greatest diplomat and the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. That declaration declared that all men were free and possessed unalienable rights endowed by their creator. It’s also true that Thomas Jefferson believed in the inalienable right to enslave people. He enslaved over 600 of them. Those were also black people. Men women and children. Jefferson even fathered some of the children he enslaved.
Another founder, Benjamin Franklin, who kids will hear much about when it comes to kites and electricity, owned slaves and advertised the sale of them in his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.
James Madison, founder number 4, co-author of the Federalist Papers, enslaved over 100 men women and children. John Hancock, and Patrick Henry, to a lesser extent, owned slaves too. John Adams was the only founder not to own slaves.
Most of these founders had revelations over slavery before they died. But throughout history, their slave owning has been brushed off as mere blemishes on otherwise spotless records, not major character flaws that defined them for most of their lives. This complexity of good, bad, and ugly should accompany any lessons taught about these men.
New Orleans also has a complex history, full of good, bad, and ugly.
Everybody knows New Orleans. It’s a beautiful, unique city, the gem of the state, an Eden awash in parishes of averageness. It’s not only renowned worldwide for Bourbon Street. But it’s also renowned for its food, the history embedded in its French and Spanish architecture, along with its Catholicity. These traits draw in millions of tourists every year creating a $9-$10 billion impact.
But New Orleans is also renowned for something else. It’s renowned for being the center of the slave trade before the Civil War. The equivalent of a $9-$10 billion impact flowed up the Mississippi river and onto auction blocks throughout the city. This attracted a different a type of tourist than today. Back then those tourists were called slave owners.
The Lower 9th ward was once the swamps where black people were relegated to live. The care that was forgotten about then has a direct historical connection to the underdevelopment of that part of the city today.
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Finally, Jackson Square, one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city, is dedicated to Andrew Jackson, the country’s 7th president. Jackson is known for founding the Democratic Party and fighting for the liberty of the common man. Conversely, Jackson dedicated his life to owning over a 100 slaves. And for overseeing The Trail of Tears, that death march he had members of the Cherokee nation sent on at gun point when he declared them unfit to continue owning the land their ancestors held for hundreds of years.
These are just a few facts, the good, the bad, and the ugly that grown adults like Rep. Hodges and Garofalo might want to include in bills about what history should be taught in our schools.