Were Southern children really subjected to “Yankee lies” in school texts?

Posted on December 22, 2008 by

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In a much earlier post, I promised to discuss something about the B.F. Johnson Publishing Company… so…

In a letter written by one F.T. Amiss (we’ll see him again in another post) on April 13, 1914, Amiss remarked:

…as an assistant Editor of the B.F. Johnson Publishing Co., of Richmond, Va., I helped to edit the first school history that even attempted to render justice to the Confederate Soldier and his cause. This book is now extensively used thru the South, and its popularity caused either publishers of histories to come nearer the truth in dealing with the Civil War and its causes. This book was Lee’s School History. After helping to edit it, I took the field and during my stay with Johnson Publishing Company, I worked every state of the South from Texarkana to Richmond, in the interest of the Johnson books, especially this popular history.

Susan Pendleton Lee’s A School History of the United States was published in 1895 by leesthe B.F. Johnson Publishing Company of Richmond, Virginia. The preface reads: “Most of the School Histories now in use tell in detail the story of the northern half of the country, while only a few chapters are devoted to its southern half. In this book, an honest effort is made to speak truthfully of both without sectional passion or prejudice”.

Mrs. Lee, by the way, was the daughter of Confederate General/Rev. William Nelson Pendleton, the sister of Sandie Pendleton, the wife of Confederate Gen. Edwin Gray Lee (a second cousin of Gen. Robert E. Lee), and a member of the Mary Custis Lee Chapter, U.D.C. of Lexington, Va. 

In her recent book, Burying the Dead, But Not the Past, Caroline Janney mentioned Mrs. Lee as among the Daughters of the U.D.C. who grappled with the efforts to maintain a true standard among histories of slavery and the Civil War. You can see a bit of what Janney had to say about this effort here. Of course, there is also mention of B.F. Johnson Publishing’s works in Fred Arthur Bailey’s essay (Free Speech and the Lost Cause in the Old Dominion) in Virginia Reconsidered.

If books such as those published by the B.F. Johnson Publishing Company held their own among the students in the classrooms of the South, then at what point, really, were Southern children corrupted with “Yankee lies” in school texts? Was this actually an unrealized fear that has developed, over time, into “perceived fact” (and thereby a new myth) among several in the new age Confederate remembrance?

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