A white woman administers some liquid or medicine to a bedridden Black child, while an enslaved woman and two enslaved children look on and help
Original Author: Francis Simkins, Sidman Poole, and Spotswood Hunnicutt, text
Created: 1957
Medium: Illustrated book page

Enslavement Presented as a Benevolent Institution

This page from the official seventh-grade textbook Virginia: History, Government, Geography (1957) depicts a caring plantation owner ministering to an enslaved child lying in a well-furnished room. This imaginary scene is accompanied by text that emphasizes the close personal connection between the planter's family and their enslaved laborers, while ignoring the harsh realities of enslavement. The text reads, in part:

A strong tie existed between slave and master because each was dependent on the other. The master needed the work and loyalty of his slaves. The slave was dependent for all his needs on the master. The slave system demanded that the master care for the slave in childhood, in sickness, and in old age. The regard that master and slave had for each other made plantation life happy and prosperous.

This evocation of slavery as a benevolent system was purposefully woven into the fourth-grade, seventh-grade, and high-school textbooks created in the 1950s under the auspices of the Virginia History and Textbook Commission, which was established by the Senate of Virginia in response to concerns about maintaining white supremacy in the face of the rising civil rights movement.

Citation: Virginia: History, Government, Geography. F226 .S5 1957. Special Collections, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA