Virginia Controversies

Who Controls the Past: The Virginia History and Textbook Commission

For my independent, outside the classroom experience with Virginia Issues and Controversies, I decided to take a look at the recommended virtual event, “Who Controls the Past: The Virginia History and Textbook Commission.” The event was sponsored by Encyclopedia Virginia, and featured speakers from the University of Lynchburg and a member of the Pamunkey Tribe. This event took place on place on September 21, 2022, but I registered in advance in case I would not be able to find anything else to do for this week. Even though this was a one-day virtual event, the entire webinar can be found on YouTube.

Encyclopedia Virginia, “Encyclopedia Virginia Presents: Who Controls the Past: The Virginia History and Textbook Commission,” YouTube, September 21, 2022,

This webinar did not focus on the inaccuracies found in Virginia’s textbooks, but instead the history surrounding those textbooks. Patricia Miller, from Encyclopedia Virginia, hosts the event. Adam Dean, from the University of Lynchburg, explores the history of the textbook commission. He explores the publication of the inherently Southern and racist perspective, otherwise known as the Lost Cause, which glorified slavery and promoted segregation. Textbooks in Virginia were engineered to teach children of the glory of the South, which generated confusion when children could not comprehend why the South had lost if they supposedly won all the battles. Brown v. Board, Massive Resistance, and the Civil Rights Movement only exacerbated this issue, making it obvious that these textbooks were promoting segregation and racism in the state’s youth. This led to the creation of a bi-racial committee to screen content being placed in textbooks.

Ashely Spivey, from the Pamunkey Tribe, explores how the textbooks dealt with the history and culture of Native Americans. If should be better stated that the textbooks did not deal with Native American history in Virginia. She explains that the history of Native Americans is simply treated as a backdrop for colonization, and that they are all the same. They totally disregarded the differences in tribal cultures, developing the stereotypes of the “noble savage,” and later “uncivilized savages.” It got to a point that it was assumed that Native Americans had disappeared, and their history is just not covered at all. This was ironic since Indian Schools were basically trying to teach an entire culture that they did not exist. She explains that this affects all people in the state, since teaching this type of exclusion leads to bigger problems with representation.

Both speakers talked quite a bit about topics we have covered in this class, including segregation, Massive Resistance, Indian relations, eugenics, and more. I have no doubt that they talked about some of the things we will cover in the future of this class, and I look forward to making those connections as we move forward.

1. What lasting impact has textbooks had on the attitude and perception of certain groups in Virginia? Are they still present today?

2. This webinar brought of the Indian Training Schools, which is something I wanted to discuss but couldn’t figure out how to integrate into class discussion. I feel like this is an entirely separate section of issues and controversies that could be explored. The most I am familiar with is the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania—mainly which I know about involves football because of a pop culture class I took once (not at UMW). So… what are some controversies associated with the Indian Schools? What was their impact in Virginia?


Encyclopedia Virginia. “Encyclopedia Virginia Presents: Who Controls the Past: The Virginia History and Textbook Commission.” YouTube, September 21, 2022.

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