Opinion Staff Editorial

Hey McGraw-Hill, slaves were not workers

Changing history is like trying to cover up the sun with your thumb — you might think you’ve got it, but in reality, there is so much there that it’s impossible.

Textbook publisher McGraw-Hill Education learned just how hard that was earlier this week when a Pearland High School freshman’s mother called out the publisher for printing a geography textbook with a caption on a map that mislabeled slaves as “workers.”

The caption displays the Atlantic slave trade and says that “… (the) trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.”

Despite an apology for “the way it was written” from McGraw-Hill Education and a promise to recall and replace the book — at the schools’ request — in the over 400 school districts where the books are used, that is not enough.

McGraw-Hill Education should not only apologize for the way the caption was written, but also for the sentiments that the caption carried.

Labeling slaves as workers undermines the horrors of slavery, and it insults the memory of those who struggled through it.

The Atlantic slave trade did not move workers from one continent to another, it moved kidnapped people who were enslaved and brought to the U.S. in disease-ridden ships where they were forced to part from their families. Many also died in the voyage. And those who did not die were forced to work endlessly without hope of a better future.

McGraw-Hill Education, however, is not the only one at fault. Texas is also at fault as the textbook was approved by the state board of education in November, according to an article by the Houston Chronicle.

The fact that this detail was overlooked by so many is unacceptable.

Even more unacceptable is the cop-out that McGraw-Hill Education is playing in saying that “…the book was reviewed by many people inside and outside the company, and was made available for public review,” and that “no one raised concerns about the caption.”

Just because something is public does not mean that people are aware of it and placing the blame on the public is a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Details can make a difference, and this small, but significant one on McGraw-Hill and Texas’ part makes a huge difference. Especially to those whose ancestors suffered in slavery and are now being said to have come to the U.S. for a job.

— The Cougar Editorial Board


  • The Daily Cougar,

    You try your best to sensationalize things by very carefully cropping your quotes to exclude important pieces of info vital for establishing the context of the rest of the sentence. Is there any point to removing two words to make your quote just a tiny bit shorter?

    The full quote reads “The Atlantic slave trade between the 1500s and the 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.”

    This is hardly the same as what you posted with your sly little edit of removing ‘Atlantic slave’ the quote, altering its meaning totally. Yes, the slave trade brought workers, but the fact that they are slaves is implied by the fact that they were brought over in the slave trade, which you tried to hide by leaving out arguably the most important part of the sentence.

    I would have expected better form the Cougar Editorial Board.

    • The should have included the full quote but that does not change the meaning. As the full quote reads they brought “workers” not “slaves”. An important distinction. This is not the first mistake I have seen in McGraw Hill text books that are used even here in our University and, in my experience, when they are pointed out nothing is done about them.

    • A slave is not an agricultural worker. He is a piece of property. A ‘worker” is paid wages, and is not something the owner may dispose of with a gun or may beat to death on a whim. I’ve spent more than a decade in original records dealing with the antebellum, CW, and Reconstruction American south. Slaves were regarded as beneath human, and thus treated as objects; beasts of burden with arms useful to carry and legs for mobility as one would regard a draft animal. Their only value — and “bucks” (young strong field hands in their 20s-30s) were highly prized — were as chattel, and their “owners” were taxed accordingly, and who likewise conveyed and disposed of them in wills, at auctions, and merchandised them accordingly. It is beyond the reckoning of most modern day Americans to even imagine what it would be like to be treated as nothing but a piece of personal merchandise with no rights whatsoever — not even to the very tattered shirt he wore, supplied him by his ‘master.” His life was entirely at his master’s disposal who could kill him and face no charges, just as one could put down a sick cow if he so chose. Day laborers, on the other hand, were also common, typically poor, white workers for small farmers. They were typically entered on rolls as “laborer.” and were paid wages (minuscule) and came and went as they pleased — usually seasonally — and had all full citizenship rights. There was a universe of difference between the two.

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