United States History textbooks can hostile terrain for BIPOC students. In Advanced Placement US History classes, which frequently lean heavily into the textbook as a means of delivery content, students see racist imagery, “fair and balanced” descriptions of architects of White supremacy, such John C. Calhoun, and a story of America narrated from a settler’s perspective. I have spent more time inside AP US History over the past couple of years in the course of my tutoring practice. Helping students to navigate textbooks is one service that I provide. I also create opportunity for students to practice AP-style multiple choice questions, and I like to use this to counter the hostility of the textbooks.
Using counternarratives is one way to do this. Here is a set of questions based on a post written by Deborah Fountain for the invaluable Black Perspectives blog hosted by the African American Intellectual History Society.
With the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, the Union gained control of the Mississippi River, which was a major turning point for the Union forces. Nine days later, on July 13, Union forces entered Natchez, [Mississippi] establishing Union Headquarters there and further solidifying full control of the entire Mississippi river.
Black men demonstrated agency by leaving plantations and enlisting—their tangible mobilization for freedom—for themselves, their families, and the Union. Their collective actions affirm, as historian Manisha Sinha notes, that enslaved people took agency over their lives in their self-liberation. By the next month, August 1863, the Union Headquarters command center in Natchez was organized, and freedmen began to enlist in the regiment then named the 6th Mississippi Infantry Regiment (African Descent), a designation subsequently changed to the 58th Regiment US Colored Infantry (USCI) in March of 1864.
Shortly thereafter, in the fall of 1863, Wisconsin troops stationed in Natchez, along with the 58th USCI, received orders to tear down the slave pens located at the Forks of the Road, the second-largest domestic slave market in the Deep South. In a letter published in the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel on February 17, 1864, a white Wisconsin soldier stationed in Natchez provided a detailed and moving account of the order and the ensuing destruction of the slave pens to obtain lumber to build barracks within the fortifications. Providing great insights regarding those Black soldiers, many of whom had previously been sold in them, the white soldier wrote, “During this work many a thrilling remimbrence[sic] was recalled of the cruelty of traders, of sad partings of husband and wife, of inhuman fathers selling their own children, and a thousand other incidents illustrating the detestable state of society at the South.” This white soldier’s detailed account of Natchez Black soldiers working through the night to tear down the slave pens with “wildest enthusiasm” and “terrible earnestness” attests to their vehement commitment to abolishing those enslaving structures forever!Deborah Fountain, historian, “The Civil War and Natchez U.S. Colored Troops,” Black Perspective, 2022
- The events described in this passage were made possible by which of the following?
- 13th Amendment
- Compromise of 1850
- Emancipation Proclamation
- Freedmen’s Bureau
2. What does the word “agency” mean in this passage?
- Business that facilitates interactions between people or businesses
- Governmental department with legally defined
- Personal ability to exercise power independently
- Representative making decisions on behalf of another person
3. Which of the following best describes the point of view of the White soldier from Wisconsin quoted in the passage?
- Justifying slavery with appeals to economic necessity
- Justifying slavery with racist social theories
- Opposing slavery as an immoral social institution
- Opposing slavery as an inefficient economic system
4. Following the end of the Civil War the men of the 58th USCI could have used which of the following to continue struggling for their rights?
- Jim Crow laws
- Sharecropping contracts
- The 15th Amendment
- The Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court decision