“’Official’ Historians Face Tough Task” (October 21, 1951) 


In this editorial, dated October 21, 1951, Washington Post columnist Benjamin Muse raises questions and doubts about the Virginia History and Textbook Commission’s efforts to write truthful history, government, and geography textbooks for Virginia’s public schools. After his political career in the 1940s, Muse wrote a weekly “Virginia Affairs” column, where he criticized the Byrd Organization and Massive Resistance.



There are few things going on in this State which are of more importance to future generations of Virginians than a work which is quietly under way in the libraries and studies of four professors. These professors are writing the history of Virginia (along with government and geography texts).

What they come up with will be in a sense the “official” history of this State. When it has been edited by the publishers and has received the approval of two governmental bodies, it will be taught to hundreds of thousands—in time, to millions—of Virginia children.

The professors will have no difficulty in writing about Washington, Jefferson  and Lee  and all the other illustrious sons of this Mother of Presidents. But they must deal also with slavery, for instance. Will they describe it in terms of contented Negroes singing in the evening by the moonlight, or will they picture also the slave market and the more sordid aspects of human servitude?

Then there is the matter of the imprisonment of Military District No. 1 and the horrors of the early post-Civil War period. With how much rancor will these be discussed? How will the story of the Ku Klux Klan be told?

Incidentally, will these historians refer to the two great battles fought over there in Fairfax and Prince William Counties as the Battles of “Manassas,” or as the Battles of “Bull Run?”

Above all, with how much wisdom and skill will the historians deal with the State’s gravest problem from Appomattox down to today—the race problem? The textbooks which are being prepared will be studied by Negro pupils and white pupils alike. How well will they combine truthfulness and tact in describing segregation and the recent awakening, under Supreme Court prodding, to long practiced inequalities in the allotment of public education funds?

Nobody relishes this idea of an “official” history of Virginia anyway. To have governmental bodies pass upon what is historic truth is risky business from the standpoint either of democracy or of education.

But one wonders what other course could have been followed in this situation than that followed by the “Commission to Provide for the Writing and Publication of a Suitable Text on Virginia’s History, Government and Geography.” We had to have textbooks, and no authors wanted to write them, no publishers wanted to print them, until they were assured that they were okay and would be purchased by the State.

Years of agitation for more instruction in the public schools in the history, government, etc. of Virginia (there is now almost none) came to a climax with the General Assembly session of 1950. Everybody wanted these things taught, but, as a Senate joint resolution observed, there is “an apparent dearth of textbooks for teaching Virginia history, government and geography.” So a commission was set up and instructed to produce the textbooks.

Delegate Cecil W. Taylor heads the commission, which comprises also State Senator Garland Gray, J. R. V. Daniel from the State Library, Daniel A. Cannady, Radford College professor; J. Edward Moyler, Joe P. Sneed and Mrs. Wyndham Blanton.

The commission contracted with Harper & Bros. and Chas. Scribners Sons to publish the textbooks. The publishers were also given the responsibility of selecting the authors. They chose: for a fourth grade history of Virginia, Dr. R. C. Dingledine of Madison College; for a high textbook on Virginia history and government, Dr. Marvin W. Schlegel of Longwood College, and for a seventh grade textbook on Virginia history, government and geography, Dr. Francis B. Simkins of Longwood, and Dr. Sidman Parmelee Poole of the University of Virginia. The professors are already deep in it, and are consulting the commission over pages of manuscript.

Most likely, the version of Virginia history which is produced by these gentlemen and which survives the scrutiny of publishers, commission and State Board of Education, will pass over the more provocative subjects with factual brevity. It can hardly be otherwise. In fact, the final verdict of history on much of the Virginia story has not yet been pronounced, and no one expects it to be found in the textbooks now being prepared. But, any way you look at it, the professors have a tough job.

APA Citation:
Washington Post. “’Official’ Historians Face Tough Task” (October 21, 1951) . (2022, March 10). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Washington Post. "“’Official’ Historians Face Tough Task” (October 21, 1951) " Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (10 Mar. 2022). Web. 20 May. 2024
Last updated: 2023, September 11
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