1987 NYT ARTICLE: “BICENTENNIAL PANEL IN CALIFORNIA ASSAILED OVER ‘RACIST’ TEXTBOOK”
By KATHERINE BISHOP
SPECIAL TO THE NEW YORK TIMES | February 16, 1987
Angry state legislators have demanded that Gov. George Deukmejian dismiss his appointees to California’s Bicentennial Commission for approving for sale a history textbook that includes an essay on slavery that refers to black children as ”pickaninnies” and says that the ”constant fear of slave rebellion” made life for Southern whites ”a nightmare.”
Sale of the book, which was being used to raise money for California’s observance of the bicentennial of the United States Constitution, was halted on Feb. 6. Governor Deukmejian announced an investigation to determine why the three nonsalaried members he appointed to the five-member commission voted to use the book. He also characterized their action as ”grossly negligent” if they failed to read the entire book before approving its use.
Commission Issues Apology
On Friday the commission issued an apology, saying that it was ”clearly a serious error in judgment to have approved the sale of the book.”
The book, The Making of America, is published by the National Center for Constitutional Studies, formerly known as the Freeman Institute, a conservative organization based in Salt Lake City.
Jeffrey D. Allen, who was hired by the commissioners as executive director of the bicentennial commission and who formerly worked for four years as a director of the National Center for Constitutional Studies, said portions of the book cited by critics as racist were ”largely taken out of context.”
The section of the book that has raised the greatest objection is a 1934 essay on slavery by the historian Fred Albert Shannon.
Referring to the standard of living on plantations, the essay said, ”If the pickaninnies ran naked it was generally from choice, and when the white boys had to put on shoes and go away to school they were likely to envy the freedom of their colored playmates.”
Slave Owner as Victim
Other sections present a picture of the white slave owner as victimized by malingering blacks who shirked their duties and left their owners with a costly burden of supporting them and their numerous offspring, concluding that ”slave owners were the worst victims of the system.”
Mr. Allen said that while he ”acknowledges the concerns” of the book’s critics, he did ”not share those concerns.” He said he felt ”comfortable” with the book because he had worked with the author, W. Cleon Skousen, and considered him a friend.
The author, who is the founder and president of the National Center for Constitutional Studies, spent 16 years in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and was a aide to J. Edgar Hoover. According to the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Mr. Skousen was a founder of the John Birch Society in Utah.
Calls to Mr. Skousen were referred to Bryan Neville, the manager of customer relations for the center’s office in Salt Lake City. Mr. Neville called criticism of the book ”ludicrous” and said the use of the word ”pickaninnies” was not ”a racial aspersion” but was ”a term of affection used by blacks themselves.”
Action Called ‘Outrageous’
Mr. Neville, in turn, attacked as ”outrageous” the work of People for the American Way, a liberal political organization founded by the television producer Norman Lear, which has lobbied against the book nationwide.
Mr. Allen said he left Mr. Skousen’s organization in 1984. But a newsletter that the group published in February 1985 announcing the publication of the book and commending the center’s various state boards for expanding the influence of the group in schools and ”making a greater impression on the local political leaders” still listed him as a seminar coordinator.
Another board member who recently resigned is Ronald Mann, the Deputy Director of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. Mr. Mann is also listed as a contributor to the book.
Contacted at his office in Washington, Mr. Mann, who is the former assistant head of the Office of Personnel Management for the Reagan Administration, said he served on the center’s board for about two years before resigning last October. He said his only contribution to the book was a donation of engravings that were reproduced in it.
Mr. Mann said he attended two meetings of the board and had no part in the organization of a conference for state legislators in Phoenix in December 1985 that featured a workshop on the Constitution given by the center. Financing for the conference, including travel, meals and hotel accommodations, were paid for by Causa, the nonprofit political arm of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.
Objections to the contents of the book were made by State Senator Gary K. Hart, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, who had sponsored legislation to establish the Bicentennial Commission.
”The content of this textbook is racist and bigoted,” Mr. Hart said. ”The book contains an extremist ideological treatment of the U.S. Constitution.” Mr. Hart also called for an investigation by the State Auditor General of expenditures made by the commission.