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Textbook publisher to revise photo caption calling slaves 'workers'

"The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations," the McGraw-Hill Education textbook reads.

By Ben Hooper

The Atlantic slave trade brought millions of workers...notice the nuanced language there. Workers implies...

Posted by Roni Dean-Burren on Wednesday, September 30, 2015

PEARLAND, Texas, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Textbook publisher McGraw-Hill Education said it will update a photo caption referring to slaves as "workers" after a Texas mother's complaints went viral.

Roni Dean-Burren posted a photo to Facebook sent to her by her son, Coby, a Pearland ninth-grader who spotted the caption in a section of his "World Geography" textbook titled, "Patterns of Immigration."

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"The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations," the textbook's photo caption reads.

"We was real hard workers wasn't we," Coby told his mother in a text.

Dean-Burren elaborated on the issue in a video she posted to Facebook the following day. She called the phrasing of the caption -- as well as the labeling of slaves as "immigrants" -- "erasure" of history.

Many of you asked about my son's textbook. Here it is. Erasure is real y'all!!! Teach your children the truth!!!#blacklivesmatter

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Posted by Roni Dean-Burren on Thursday, October 1, 2015

"This is revisionist history -- retelling the story however the winners would like it told," Dean-Burren told The Washington Post.

McGraw-Hill Education responded to the controversy Friday in a Facebook post.

This week, we became aware of a concern regarding a caption reference to slavery on a map in one of our world geography...

Posted by McGraw-Hill Education on Friday, October 2, 2015

"This week, we became aware of a concern regarding a caption reference to slavery on a map in one of our world geography programs. This program addresses slavery in the world in several lessons and meets the learning objectives of the course. However, we conducted a close review of the content and agree that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves.

We believe we can do better. To communicate these facts more clearly, we will update this caption to describe the arrival of African slaves in the U.S. as a forced migration and emphasize that their work was done as slave labor. These changes will be reflected in the digital version of the program immediately and will be included in the program's next print run."

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Dean-Burren said she has mixed feelings about the publisher's response.

"On a surface level, 'yay,'" she said. "I understand that McGraw-Hill is a textbook giant, so thumbs up for listening."

However, she said she is concerned that the promised revised print version may not see the insides of classrooms for another decade.

"I know they can do better. They can send out a supplement. They can recall those books. Regardless of whether you're left-leaning or right-leaning, you know that's not really the story of slavery," she said.

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