THE NATION CLASSROOM
American History as It Happened
RACE RELATIONS and CIVIL RIGHTS
MODULE EIGHT: 1991-Present
STUDENT PRACTICE ACTIVITY ONE
[COMPARE AND CONTRAST]
Read Documents Six (“Warped History”) and Seven (“Ringing the Freedom Bell”) and answer the following questions.
1. What does Eric Foner mean by “warped history” in Document Six? Foner is referring to myths that were used to legitimate segregation, violence, and racial prejudice against African-Americans. Foner remarks on the public glorification of the Confederacy, its leaders, Confederacy-inspired state flags, and still-extant homages to segregationists and the Ku Klux Klan. Specifically, he is referring to the portrayal of black men as rapists of white women, a myth that Foner notes has “deep historical roots.” Besides Dylann Roof’s use of that language to justify his mass murder, this false view of history has been deployed as the rationale for the lynching of thousands of blacks, the overthrow of Reconstruction, and the institution of Jim Crow laws.
2. How does “warped history” differ with the view of history described in Document Seven? While the warped view of history is based on myths, the exploration of history in Document Seven is rooted in scholarship (“Historians of the African-American experience agree that the most recent and cutting-edge scholarship informs the carefully mounted exhibits”). Visitors to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture are invited to learn about the “complex and painful experiences” of black people in America, as well as their contributions to society.
3. Compare the public displays of history the authors describe in the two texts. What impact does each have? In Document Six, the public displays of warped history include statues of Confederate generals, Klansmen, and segregationists, which represent white supremacy and are a visual reminder of a painful time in black history. By leaving these statues up, the state governments condone racial prejudice and show that it is still a vital force in southern life. In Document Seven, the public displays at the museum include items that symbolize and teach black history so that it is “studied, respected, and celebrated.” The museum itself is a public display of history that works to show the importance of African-Americans in shaping the American experience. In this way, the public displays of history work to spread knowledge and deepen understanding.