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Virginia 4th-grade textbook criticized over claims on black Confederate soldiers


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The book's publisher, Five Ponds Press, based in Weston, Conn., sent a Post reporter three of the links Masoff found on the Internet. Each referred to work by Sons of the Confederate Veterans or others who contend that the fight over slavery was not the main cause of the Civil War.

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In its short lesson on the roles that whites, African Americans and Indians played in the Civil War, "Our Virginia" says, "Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson."

Masoff said of the assertion: "It's just one sentence. I don't want to ruffle any feathers. If the historians had contacted me and asked me to take it out, I would have."

She added that the book was reviewed by a publisher's advisory council of educators and that none of the advisers objected to the textbook's assertion.

Historians from across the country, however, said the sentence about Confederate soldiers was wrong or, at the least, overdrawn. They expressed concerns not only over its accuracy but over the implications of publishing an assertion so closely linked to revisionist Confederate history.

"It's more than just an arcane, off-the-wall problem," said David Blight, a professor at Yale University. "This isn't just about the legitimacy of the Confederacy, it's about the legitimacy of the emancipation itself."

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson of Princeton University said, "These Confederate heritage groups have been making this claim for years as a way of purging their cause of its association with slavery."

Masoff said one of her sources was Ervin Jordan, a University of Virginia historian who said he has documented evidence -- in the form of 19th-century newspapers and personal letters -- of some African Americans fighting for the Confederacy. But in an interview, Jordan said the account in the fourth-grade textbook went far beyond what his research can support.

"There's no way of knowing that there were thousands," Jordan said. "And the claim about Jackson is totally false. I don't know where that came from."

The book also survived the Education Department's vetting and was ruled "accurate and unbiased" by a committee of content specialists and teachers. Five Ponds Press has published 14 books that are used in the Virginia public school system, all of them written by Masoff.

Masoff also wrote "Oh Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty" and "Oh Yikes! History's Grossest Moments."

sieffk@washpost.com

For all the Post's education coverage, please see washingtonpost.com/education


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