Preface: North Carolina’s First Official Black History Textbook (REVISED 1894)

Seems oddly relevant today with states “where woke goes to die” as these pesky “history wars” continue to rage — most recently in the form of an AP African American Studies course in Florida.

Cover page: A School History of the Negro Race in the United States (1894).

Dedicated, like both the earlier and later revisions, to the “many thousand colored teachers in our country,” A School History of The Negro Race in the United States (1894) differs from the original — A School History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1890 (1890) — as well as its successors in more ways than just the title.

Originally published in 1890 by Edward Austin Johnson, at the suggestion of E. P. Moses (superintendent of Raleigh schools) according to a later account, the revised edition of the book approved for use in public schools in North Carolina (and later Virginia) was supervised by Sydney Michael Finger — a former Confederate and a distant cousin.

According to in Raleigh (21 Dec 1890), under the ownership of Walter Hines Page, the original version of Johnson’s book “gives an interesting account of the introduction of slavery in all the colonies, spiced in with beautiful sketches of Phillis Wheatly, the negro girl poetess and author; Benjamin Banneka, the negro philosopher and reputed publisher of the first almanac in America; [Thomas] Fuller, the negro mathematician of Virginia; [George Moses] Horton, the North Carolina slave poet.”

Johnson’s 1892 newspaper ad. Clipping from The Raleigh Signal (14 Apr 1892, Page 3).

“It also gives interesting statistics,” continued, “including the wealth of the colored people and the number of colored people and the number of colored troops enlisted in all the wars. Also an interesting account of Crispus Attucks, the colored man who fell as the first martyr in the Revolution, and interesting sketches of the various battles in which colored troops took a conspicuous part. It gives also the compliments of Washington, Jackson, Edward M. Staunton and Grant on the colored troops. It contains a number of illustrations which add greatly to the appearance of the book.”

“The language is chaste and attractive,” ’s 1890 review concluded, and the book “contains much information that should be interesting to the negro and his friends, and will no doubt have a large sale.” In May of the following year, , another white-owned newspaper in the state which would later stoke the “uncontrollable indignation, bitterness, and rage” that led to the Wilmington insurrection of 1898, noted that Johnson’s book (as its title clearly states) was “intended for the schools” and was already being “used as a textbook by Shaw University and other leading schools” for Blacks in North Carolina. Johnson’s textbook “sought to promote the progress of the black race and their role in the creation of America and beyond,” notes Sarah Shepard (2018) in her Bachelor’s history theses at Goucher College:

“In his attempt to challenge the Lost Cause, however, Johnson promoted ideas of racial uplift and racial progress, born out of the belief that slaves benefited from slavery. This problematic idea reinforced the narrative of the faithful slave and the Lost Cause” and “ended up accommodating and reinforcing it.” — Sarah Shepard (2018)

To even further reinforce this “pseudohistorical negationist mythology,” the Finger-supervised adds a whole new chapter (II) I call “Whitesplaining Slavery to Black Children,” which explicitly states this “problematic idea” and implies a consensus between Johnson and Finger on this point: “.”

Edward Austin Johnson (1860–1944) — “…born in slavery [near Raleigh], driven from elective office by a constitutional amendment, and forced to flee the state to maintain his own self-respect” (Dr. H. G. Jones, 1983), Johnson’s impressive biography is worth a few minutes of your time for Black History Month.

Photo: Attorney E. A. Johnson — Fair Use.

I discovered Johnson and his book while researching my genealogical connections to Sydney Finger. I first discovered Sydney a few years ago while on a guided tour of local historical architecture. In the front lobby of an old German Reformed (now Baptist) church in Newton, there’s a large stained-glass window in his memory. My paternal grandmother was a Finger, and I was able to find her connection to Sydney pretty quickly. However, the local Keener and Finger families have connections that go back to at least May 23, 1778.

Confederate tax notice in The Evening Bulletin (Charlotte, 28 Apr 1864, Page 2).

That’s when Peter Finger (Sydney’s great grandfather and my sixth great grandfather) purchased his first tract of land in Lincoln County from Abraham Keener (my fifth great grandfather), near where Peter’s sister Catherine and brother-in-law Christian Reinhardt lived — the site of a “warm and obstinate fight” (Griffith Rutherford) between local Whigs and Tories — including Abraham — two years later. But that’s a different story.

Sydney Michael Finger (1837 — 1896)Controlling Quartermaster of North Carolina Confederate forces (1864), Mayor of Newton (1872), educator (at Catawba College), NC state assemblyman (House: 1874, Senate: 1881), State Superintendent of Public Instruction (two terms starting in 1884), merchant, and manufacturer from Lincoln (now Catawba) County.

Photo: S. M. Finger — Fair Use.

When “Major Finger” arrived in Raleigh in 1874 to begin his first term in the North Carolina state legislature, he may have crossed paths with the young Johnson. The 14-year-old formerly enslaved child was likely attending the “Washington School” for Black children at the time, and the former mayor of Newton (1872) and newly elected Democratic representative from Catawba County had a keen interest in education.

Finger had spent his immediate post-war years teaching at the “Catawba English and Classical High School” (or Catawba College) instead of terrorizing neighbors who happened to be Black (or Republican) or erecting monuments to “that terrible, protracted, and bloody conflict” (Frederick Douglass) in which he lost his three brothers.

When Johnson returned to Raleigh in 1885 to head the “Washington School”, Finger was praising laziness and serving the first of two terms as North Carolina’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Still in that office when Johnson published the original edition of his Black history textbook in 1890, Finger retired from public office in 1892 but remained active in Democratic politics. Johnson, meanwhile, served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention that same year.

Back at home, Finger was warning local citizens about an alleged “secret political party” involved in the 1892 presidential election, possibly including “twenty-five or thirty of these men” from Catawba County who were “under secret orders from their chief officers” as part of a Republican conspiracy to “break the democratic South” in 1892. My Keener great-grandfather might have had something to say about that claim.

By 1894 Johnson had obtained a law degree from Shaw University and joined the faculty there as he re-published his Black history text under Finger’s supervision. Finger authored and published a separate civics textbook for schools this same year. I’ll continue this story and document subsequent Finger-supervised revisions in subsequent posts, but for now let’s take a look at the changes Johnson (presumably, as he initialed it) made to the Preface in his 1894 revision:

Deltas in the Preface (2 1/2 pages)— based on a comparison of Johnson’s original (1890) text and the Finger-supervised revision (1894), the text added in the latter is formatted in bold below, while text in the former which is missing from the latter is formatted in s̶t̶r̶i̶k̶e̶t̶h̶r̶o̶u̶g̶h̶. Text in the latter that is unchanged from the former has no special formatting below or is, for the most part, not included.

Black children “ought to study some work that would give them a little information on the many brave deeds and noble characters of their own race. I̶ ̶h̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶t̶e̶n̶ ̶o̶b̶s̶e̶r̶v̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶i̶n̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶o̶m̶i̶s̶s̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶c̶o̶m̶m̶i̶s̶s̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶p̶a̶r̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶w̶h̶i̶t̶e̶ ̶a̶u̶t̶h̶o̶r̶s̶,̶ ̶m̶o̶s̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶w̶h̶o̶m̶ ̶s̶e̶e̶m̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶h̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶w̶r̶i̶t̶t̶e̶n̶ ̶e̶x̶c̶l̶u̶s̶i̶v̶e̶l̶y̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶w̶h̶i̶t̶e̶ ̶c̶h̶i̶l̶d̶r̶e̶n̶,̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶s̶t̶u̶d̶i̶o̶u̶s̶l̶y̶ ̶l̶e̶f̶t̶ ̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶m̶a̶n̶y̶ ̶c̶r̶e̶d̶i̶t̶a̶b̶l̶e̶ ̶d̶e̶e̶d̶s̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶N̶e̶g̶r̶o̶.̶ ̶T̶h̶e̶ ̶g̶e̶n̶e̶r̶a̶l̶ ̶t̶o̶n̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶m̶o̶s̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶t̶o̶r̶i̶e̶s̶ ̶t̶a̶u̶g̶h̶t̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶o̶u̶r̶ ̶s̶c̶h̶o̶o̶l̶s̶ ̶h̶a̶s̶ ̶b̶e̶e̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶f̶e̶r̶i̶o̶r̶i̶t̶y̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶N̶e̶g̶r̶o̶,̶ ̶w̶h̶e̶t̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶a̶c̶t̶u̶a̶l̶l̶y̶ ̶s̶a̶i̶d̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶s̶o̶ ̶m̶a̶n̶y̶ ̶w̶o̶r̶d̶s̶,̶ ̶o̶r̶ ̶l̶e̶f̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶b̶e̶ ̶i̶m̶p̶l̶i̶e̶d̶ ̶f̶r̶o̶m̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶h̶i̶g̶h̶e̶s̶t̶ ̶l̶a̶u̶d̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶d̶e̶e̶d̶s̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶o̶n̶e̶ ̶r̶a̶c̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶c̶o̶m̶p̶l̶e̶t̶e̶ ̶e̶x̶c̶l̶u̶s̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶o̶s̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶.̶ In this particular our school histories are generally deficient. It must, indeed, be a stimulus to any people to be able to refer to their ancestors as distinguished in deeds of valor, and peculiarly so to the colored people. B̶u̶t̶ ̶h̶o̶w̶ ̶m̶u̶s̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶l̶i̶t̶t̶l̶e̶ ̶c̶o̶l̶o̶r̶e̶d̶ ̶c̶h̶i̶l̶d̶ ̶f̶e̶e̶l̶ ̶w̶h̶e̶n̶ ̶h̶e̶ ̶h̶a̶s̶ ̶c̶o̶m̶p̶l̶e̶t̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶a̶s̶s̶i̶g̶n̶e̶d̶ ̶c̶o̶u̶r̶s̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶U̶.̶ ̶S̶.̶ ̶H̶i̶s̶t̶o̶r̶y̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶i̶t̶ ̶f̶o̶u̶n̶d̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶ ̶o̶n̶e̶ ̶w̶o̶r̶d̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶c̶r̶e̶d̶i̶t̶,̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶ ̶o̶n̶e̶ ̶w̶o̶r̶d̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶f̶a̶v̶o̶r̶a̶b̶l̶e̶ ̶c̶o̶m̶m̶e̶n̶t̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶e̶v̶e̶n̶ ̶o̶n̶e̶ ̶a̶m̶o̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶m̶i̶l̶l̶i̶o̶n̶s̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶e̶p̶a̶r̶e̶n̶t̶s̶,̶ ̶w̶h̶o̶ ̶h̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶l̶i̶v̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶r̶o̶u̶g̶h̶ ̶n̶e̶a̶r̶l̶y̶ ̶t̶h̶r̶e̶e̶ ̶c̶e̶n̶t̶u̶r̶i̶e̶s̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶c̶o̶u̶n̶t̶r̶y̶’̶s̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶t̶o̶r̶y̶!̶ ̶T̶h̶e̶ ̶N̶e̶g̶r̶o̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶h̶a̶r̶d̶l̶y̶ ̶g̶i̶v̶e̶n̶ ̶a̶ ̶p̶a̶s̶s̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶i̶c̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶m̶a̶n̶y̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶t̶o̶r̶i̶e̶s̶ ̶t̶a̶u̶g̶h̶t̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶c̶h̶o̶o̶l̶s̶;̶ ̶h̶e̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶c̶r̶e̶d̶i̶t̶e̶d̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶ ̶n̶o̶ ̶h̶e̶r̶i̶t̶a̶g̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶v̶a̶l̶o̶r̶;̶ ̶h̶e̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶m̶e̶n̶t̶i̶o̶n̶e̶d̶ ̶o̶n̶l̶y̶ ̶a̶s̶ ̶a̶ ̶s̶l̶a̶v̶e̶,̶ ̶w̶h̶i̶l̶e̶ ̶t̶r̶u̶e̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶t̶o̶r̶i̶c̶a̶l̶ ̶r̶e̶c̶o̶r̶d̶s̶ ̶p̶r̶o̶v̶e̶ ̶h̶i̶m̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶h̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶b̶e̶e̶n̶ ̶a̶m̶o̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶m̶o̶s̶t̶ ̶p̶a̶t̶r̶i̶o̶t̶i̶c̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶p̶a̶t̶r̶i̶o̶t̶s̶,̶ ̶a̶m̶o̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶b̶r̶a̶v̶e̶s̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶s̶o̶l̶d̶i̶e̶r̶s̶,̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶c̶o̶n̶s̶t̶a̶n̶t̶l̶y̶ ̶a̶ ̶G̶o̶d̶-̶f̶e̶a̶r̶i̶n̶g̶,̶ ̶f̶a̶i̶t̶h̶f̶u̶l̶ ̶p̶r̶o̶d̶u̶c̶e̶r̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶n̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶’̶s̶ ̶w̶e̶a̶l̶t̶h̶. Though a slave t̶o̶ ̶t̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶g̶o̶v̶e̶r̶n̶m̶e̶n̶t̶,̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶f̶i̶r̶s̶t b̶l̶o̶o̶d̶̶ s̶h̶e̶d̶ i̶n̶ ̶i̶t̶s̶ ̶d̶e̶f̶e̶n̶c̶e, the Negro shed his blood in defence of the government in those days when a foreign foe threatened its existence. In each of the American wars, the Negro was faithful, yes, faithful to a land not his own in point of rights and freedom. ,̶ ̶b̶u̶t̶,̶ ̶i̶n̶d̶e̶e̶d̶,̶ ̶a̶ ̶l̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶,̶ ̶a̶f̶t̶e̶r̶ ̶h̶e̶ ̶h̶a̶d̶ ̶s̶h̶o̶u̶l̶d̶e̶r̶e̶d̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶m̶u̶s̶k̶e̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶d̶e̶f̶e̶n̶d̶,̶ ̶r̶e̶w̶a̶r̶d̶e̶d̶ ̶h̶i̶m̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶ ̶a̶ ̶r̶e̶n̶e̶w̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶e̶r̶m̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶s̶l̶a̶v̶e̶r̶y̶.̶ ̶P̶a̶t̶r̶i̶o̶t̶i̶s̶m̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶v̶a̶l̶o̶r̶ ̶u̶n̶d̶e̶r̶ ̶t̶h̶o̶s̶e̶ ̶c̶i̶r̶c̶u̶m̶s̶t̶a̶n̶c̶e̶s̶ ̶p̶o̶s̶s̶e̶s̶s̶ ̶a̶ ̶p̶e̶c̶u̶l̶a̶i̶r̶ ̶m̶e̶r̶i̶t̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶b̶e̶a̶t̶u̶t̶y̶.̶ ̶B̶u̶t̶ ̶s̶u̶c̶h̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶t̶r̶u̶t̶h̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶t̶o̶r̶y̶;̶ a̶n̶d̶ .May I not hope that the study of this little work by the boys and girls of the race will inspire in them a new self-respect and confidence? Much, of course, will depend on you, dear teachers, into whose hand I hope to place this book…”

See my other posts in this series for the Finger-supervised revisions to other chapters in the first Black history textbook approved for use in NC schools (1894)…

Contents (Revised 1894):

Preface (this post)
I. Introduction. — A shared commitment to debunking the “Curse of Ham” with a few bridges too far to cross.
II. General View of Slavery in the World.
III. Beginning of Slavery in the Colonies.

XVI. Frederick Douglass. — “̶H̶e̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶a̶s̶ ̶m̶u̶c̶h̶ ̶q̶u̶o̶t̶e̶d̶ ̶a̶s̶ ̶a̶n̶y̶ ̶l̶i̶v̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶A̶m̶e̶r̶i̶c̶a̶n̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶t̶e̶s̶m̶a̶n̶.̶”̶

XX. Examples of Underground Work.
XXI. The Slave Population of 1860.
XXII. The Civil War T̶h̶e̶ ̶W̶a̶r̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶R̶e̶b̶e̶l̶l̶i̶o̶n̶

X̶X̶X̶I̶V̶.̶ ̶T̶h̶e̶ ̶F̶r̶e̶e̶ ̶P̶e̶o̶p̶l̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶C̶o̶l̶o̶r̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶N̶o̶r̶t̶h̶ ̶C̶a̶r̶o̶l̶i̶n̶a̶ ̶b̶y̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶R̶e̶v̶.̶ ̶J̶o̶h̶n̶ ̶S̶[̶i̶n̶c̶l̶a̶i̶r̶]̶ ̶L̶e̶a̶r̶y̶
XXXV. Conclusion



A frank, independent, and courageous look at my German-American heritage, history, and current events with a deep aversion to sham and pretense wherever it appears.

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