Opinion

There Is a Reason Ron DeSantis Wants History Told a Certain Way

As you have probably seen by now, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has signed another bill that limits classroom instruction on racism and racial inequality. This one applies to colleges and universities, banning so-called divisive concepts from general education courses. I mentioned all this in my Friday column, tying it to the broader Republican effort to give public institutions the freedom to censor.

As it happens, I’m reading the historian Donald Yacovone’s most recent book, “Teaching White Supremacy: America’s Democratic Ordeal and the Forging of Our National Identity,” on the relationship between history education and the construction of white supremacist ideologies in the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s an interesting book, filled with compelling information about the racism that has shaped the teaching of American history. But I mention it here because, in one section on Southern textbook writers and the demand for pro-slavery pedagogy, Yacovone relays a voice that might sound awfully familiar to modern ears.

As Yacovone explains, pre-Civil War textbook production was dominated by writers from New England. Some southerners had, by the 1850s, become “increasingly frustrated with the ‘Yankee-centric’ quality of the historical narratives.” They wanted texts “specifically designed for Southern students and readers.” In particular, Southern critics wanted textbooks that gave what they considered a fair and favorable view to the “subject of the weightiest import to us of the South … I mean the institution of Negro slavery,” as one critic put it.

Part of the reason for Southern elite frustration, and the reason they wanted history textbooks tailored to their views, was the rise of pro-slavery ideology among slaveholders whose lives and livelihoods were tied to the institution. It helped as well that slavery had become — against the expectations of many Americans, including the nation’s founders — incredibly lucrative in the first decades of the 19th century. By the time Yacovone begins his narrative, Southern slaveholders had moved from the regretful acceptance of slavery that characterized earlier generations of slaveholding elites to an embrace of slavery as a “positive good” — in John C. Calhoun’s infamous words — and the only basis on which to build a functional and prosperous society.

It was in this context that J.W. Morgan, a Virginian contributor to the southern journal De Bow’s Review, excoriated northern history textbooks and called for censorship of anything that hinted of antislavery belief. Here’s Yacovone summarizing Morgan’s argument:

What I find striking about this is not just that it is a prime example of the hostility to free expression that marked the slaveholding South — southern elites instituted gag rules in Congress and prevented the circulation of antislavery materials through the mail in their states — but that Morgan is as concerned with the effect of abolitionist arguments on the “minds of youth” as he is with their effect on enslaved Americans themselves.

It was vital, to Morgan, that the slaveholding South reproduce its beliefs and ideologies in the next generation. Education was the tool, and anything that emphasized the equality of all people and challenged existing hierarchies as unnatural and unjust was the threat.


What I Wrote

My Tuesday column was on the Republican Party’s embrace of vigilantism and the conservative misuse of the idea of the “good Samaritan.”

My Friday column was on the “four freedoms” defined by the Republican agenda and what they say about the kind of country conservatives hope to build.

And in the latest episode of my podcast with John Ganz, we discussed the film “True Lies.”


Photo of the Week

Credit…Jamelle Bouie

This is the drive-through at a long-closed Hardees that I happen to pass most days of the week. I thought it was visually interesting, so I stopped by one afternoon to take a few photos.


Now Eating: Fresh Strawberry Bundt Cake

I made this for Mother’s Day and it was good. I had to make a few adjustments, however. First and foremost, I nixed the fresh strawberries for frozen strawberries. The thing about frozen fruit is that it is picked at the height of ripeness, which makes it perfect for most applications. You’ll need to defrost the strawberries and dice them, of course.

I also bought a package of freeze-dried strawberries, ground them into a powder and added them to the dry ingredients. I used a blended strawberry yogurt instead of plain yogurt as well. The point of all of these changes was to concentrate the strawberry flavor and, I’ll say, the cake tasted very much like strawberries. The glaze is fine, although next time I make this cake, I won’t use it. Either way, this is best served with a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream.

Recipe from New York Times Cooking.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup unsalted butter (1½ sticks), softened, plus more for greasing the pan

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan

  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar

  • zest from 1 lemon (about 1 teaspoon)

  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 1 ¼ cups whole-milk yogurt, not Greek

  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 2 ¾ cups fresh strawberries (about 1 pound), hulled and chopped into ½-inch pieces, ¼-cup reserved

    For the glaze:

  • reserved strawberries

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar (unsifted)

  • 2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Directions

Make the cake: Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat oven to 325 degrees. Carefully butter and flour a 16-cup Bundt pan, making sure to get in all of the cracks and crevices.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar until combined. Add lemon zest, and then cream the mixture until light and fluffy on medium-high speed, about 5 minutes.

With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next. Add the yogurt, lemon juice and vanilla, and stir on medium speed to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary to incorporate all the ingredients. The mixture may curdle a bit, but don’t worry too much about it.

Add the flour mixture all at once and mix on low until almost completely combined.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, scrape and fold any excess flour into the batter, and scoop out roughly ½ cup of batter. Drop tablespoons of batter into the bottom of the prepared pan, and smooth into the bottom of the pan. (This batter will prevent the strawberries from sinking to the bottom of the pan and sticking.) Add the chopped strawberries to the remaining batter in the bowl and gently fold in until the strawberries are evenly distributed. The batter will be thick.

Spoon the batter evenly into the pan, smooth the top and tap the pan firmly on the counter a few times to release any large air bubbles. Bake the cake until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean (a few small crumbs are OK), about 70 minutes. Cool the pan on a rack for 15 minutes, then turn the cake out onto the rack to cool completely.

When the cake is cool, make the glaze: In a medium bowl, use a fork to mash the reserved ¼ cup of strawberries. Whisk in the confectioners’ sugar and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. The glaze should be thick but just pourable. If it seems thin, add a bit more confectioners’ sugar; if it is too thick to stir, add a bit more lemon juice. Pour the glaze evenly over the cake (you can glaze it over a rack if you prefer to let the excess glaze drip off), let it set for a few minutes and serve. Once the glaze has dried completely, refrigerate any leftover cake, loosely draped with plastic wrap.

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