Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sara K Joiner: On the Confederacy, Textbooks and the Power of Historical Fiction

Since those horrible murders in Charleston in June, the country has engaged in a debate on the significance and meaning of the Confederate battle flag. Some argue it is a racist symbol of a racist past, while others believe it is a symbol of Southern pride.

Texas monument at Antietam
National Battlefield in Maryland.
photo by Sara K Joiner
Into the middle of that debate walked the new American history textbooks that the Texas Board of Education approved.

They whitewash history and sweep all the ugliness of our nation's past under a rug.

History textbooks are no strangers to controversy. There are people who want to include all the sordid details and those who want only the most pleasant facts mentioned.

Textbook writers and publishers have to find a happy medium. Then they have to cater to the education boards of the two largest textbook buyers in the country—California and Texas.

This is where historical fiction can bring history into focus.
New York monument at Antietam
National Battlefield in Maryland.
photo by Sara K Joiner

Now, more than ever, as our nation grows ever more diverse and the millennial generation is the largest group in the country, historical fiction writers have an obligation to be as honest as possible in their writing. We owe our readers emotional honesty and as much historical accuracy as we can provide.

We should refer to the wholesale slaughter of indigenous peoples as the genocide it was. We should speak truthfully about the horrors of slavery. We should remember the terrors perpetrated under Jim Crow.

Crystal Allen's The Laura Line wrestles with slavery as it continues to affect present generations. Noni Carter's Good Fortune shows one girl's experience from capture to enslavement to escape.

The Winter People by Joseph Bruchac gives readers an introduction to Native life and resistance in colonial times. How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle shows the cruelty meted out to the Choctaw during their forced removal from ancestral lands.

Sharon Draper's Stella By Starlight and Augusta Scattergood's Glory Be are both set in the segregated South and show the racism prevalent at the time, albeit from very different points of view.

Give these books to students. Let them read about fictional characters living and suffering through true historical moments. It's the best way to separate symbols from history and see the truth that lies somewhere between the textbook and the novel.

Sara K Joiner is the author of After the Ashes, coming in October from Holiday House. She is also the children's coordinator for the Brazoria County Library System.

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