Flawed historical research projects continue to mis-educate our people

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Carter G. Woodson

Over the past year, the writer has been exposed to several historical research projects that have proven to be flawed. That, in and of itself, may not be enough to raise eyebrows. It is perhaps true that many such projects are less than perfect because their writers are “human.” The problem here, however, is that the nature of these historical projects is such that their distribution continues to escalate mis-education in America.

Nearly one hundred years ago, Carter G. Woodson called attention to how this mis-education was affecting Black Americans. Just as important in this context is the fact that white racist leaders who have long supported and promoted the mis-education of Black and white Americans are engaged in a war today that has the same goal in mind. Following are several projects that illustrate the problem and one which demonstrates how to counteract it.


We begin with the antidote by turning to Wayne State University history professor Kidada Williams who recently gave a talk on her research highlighting the violence and terrorism surrounding Reconstruction in the American South. Her book, “I Saw Death Coming,” shows how there were hundreds of acts of violence and terrorism directed against local formerly enslaved Black people. This massive, widespread display by white Southerners began immediately upon the issuance of “the Emancipation Proclamation.” It continued throughout the Civil War, after congressional and executive actions were taken establishing the policies of Reconstruction, and until the Southerners were able to pass laws and constitutional provisions that secured them in the positions of power for the next several generations.

The actions of those white Southerners, she declares, constituted a war against Reconstruction. They were successful because Southern whites, including the KKK and other such night-riders, were armed to the teeth and united in their efforts to kill, subdue, and/or drive out the freed Black people. They were successful because the Union troops were limited in the protection that they could offer. They were successful because of the assistance provided by President Andrew Johnson and eventually the compromise of Rutherford Hayes’ supporters. They were successful because of the way in which the white state and local leaders rallied their neighbors around the concept of race.

While Williams’ findings and position were quite reasonable and understanding, they appeared to many to be fresh, if not completely unique. That was the case because the era and the policies of Reconstruction had for so long been the subject of massive propaganda and mis-education. Not just Southern sympathizers, but many more traditional historians and educators had long “bought” the idea that Reconstruction had been a failure. Some stated that the Reconstruction officials during the period had been corrupt and/or incompetent. Some had suggested that the Union supporters had grown tired and wanted to get back to the business of making money.

As Professor Williams responded to questions, she indicated that other historians had often used the same sources that she used in her study, but that they had interpreted things differently because of their perspectives on life. To the writer, this was an example of how important it is in many instances to have the matter of historical racism studied by individuals who can evaluate and interpret documents from non-racist perspective. Her corrective to the continued mis-education is in her perspective and interpretation. 


For the next point of discussion, we turn to a discussion on lynchings in America. That historical project had been undertaken by a retired white history professor who had spent a significant number of years teaching in Mississippi at the college level.

Several of his findings were that a significant number of the victims of lynchings were white; that many of the lynchings were announced in the local newspapers prior to the events themselves; and that there were a number of factors that led to the lynchings. He even went into detail on several of the lynchings, explaining how and why the persons arrested for the lynchings were not punished.

Once the question/answer segment began, the biggest flaw in the research was revealed. The researcher indicated that he had consulted local, white or mainstream newspapers as his primary sources. There was no attempt to consult such prominent Black news sources as the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, the Los Angeles Sentinel, New York Amsterdam News, and Ebony/Jet. Once it was clear how skewed were his sources, members in the audience understood, but rejected his figures on the percentage of white lynch victims as well as the reason behind the lynchings.

In the case of that research project, audience members were spared more mis-education. Although the revelations had come late to many of them, they had been exposed to writings, such as, “100 Years of Lynchings” by Ralph Ginzburg, “We Charge Genocide” by the Civil Rights Congress, “Without Sanctuary,” and the work of Ida B. Wells. Without those doses of the truth about lynchings, audience members would have been open to more modern mis-education.


Similar to the case of the lynching historical research, there was a research presentation on Jackson State University President Jacob Reddix. The essence of that project was the assertion that based upon his building projects between 1940 and 1967, Jacob Reddix was Jackson State University’s greatest president. The assertion itself, because it was a subjective opinion, drew lively discussion. Its biggest flaw, however, was the fact that it was based upon only two sources, one of which was a book by Reddix himself.

In order to truly know or understand a matter as important as an institution’s, community’s, or group’s true heroes, exposure to multiple and credible sources is essential. Otherwise, one can be victimized by mis-education. It would be difficult to determine who were the genuine heroes of Black Americans, who was too accommodating or cooperative with the system and who was just fronting for the racist establishment.


Finally, we turn to the discussion of the development and operation of the public junior college system in Mississippi. The presenter was a retired professor of history who had taught extensively at Hinds Junior College. His work was a combination of the history of the development of agricultural high schools and junior colleges in Mississippi, along with a centennial history of Hinds Junior College. He also made passing comments on the importance of community colleges in America.

Most of the attention was on Hinds Junior College, which obviously reflected the fact that the historian had spent most of his career at that institution. Even given that leeway, however, there was perhaps too little discussion of most of the other institutions for it to have represented the state’s system of community colleges. This was especially the case since the discussion was begun with the fact that the state had established 14 junior college districts in 1928.

In discussing the state-wide system, there are several significant omissions. These are particularly egregious when it comes to the state’s Black population and the establishment of the three historically Black junior colleges. (1) There was no mention of the fact that neither of the three was the original district. Utica Institute was assumed by the state during the Great Depression and placed under the same board as Hinds Junior College. Harris Junior College was established by the Meridian Public School District in 1937 and therefore under the board of trustees for that school district. Coahoma Junior College was established in 1948 with its own board. (2) Both Harris and Utica were consistently underfunded as each had a white junior college in the same district. There was no mention of the fact that Harris was merged out of existence when the Meridian Public School District was ordered to desegregate in 1970. Utica Junior College became the Utica Campus of Hinds Community College under the court’s order in Ayers vs. Waller. (3) The state legislature did not create a district for the financial support of Coahoma until 1990.

In addition to those omissions, the presenter glossed over the fact that Utica was summarily submerged under Hinds. He stated that there had been compromises to create the new system. Since its loss of independent status, however, what used to be Utica Junior College has continued to lose students, revenue, and stature, while what used to be Hinds Junior College has taken up the slack, losing nothing in the process. The case of Harris Junior College has been even worse, since it is not even mentioned or utilized as a campus.

If the younger generations rely on this piece of flawed history, they will be mis-educated on the accomplishments of Harris and Utica junior colleges, on the manner in which the community college system was created without Black students in mind, and on the causes for their demise. By the same token, the sordid racial nature of the community college system will be hidden from sight and from discussion. What was presented by the retired, white historian was simply the history of the white junior college system without its thwarts and unfair advantages.


The problems noted in the historical research projects above – biased and inadequate representation of sources, factual omissions, biased interpretations, and faulty reconstruction of events – are the kinds of things about which trained historians are cautioned during their college development as historians in-training. Yet, because they are human, and are affected by their affiliations, they often end up writing flawed history. 

History itself is not biased or flawed, but how it is written often is, as is noted above. Whenever that happens and it is passed down, the consumers become mis-informed/mis-educated. This means that one should always be aware of who writes the history and seek to reconcile their “suspect findings” with other well-established findings from other historians and from other bodies of human knowledge. Although publishers, professional historians, and curriculum developers should undertake that task, when they fail, knowledgeable individuals must step up and make the corrections rather than allow the mis-education to go unchallenged and unabated. 

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Flawed historical research projects continue to mis-educate our people

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
June 3, 2024