Outrage after textbook calls black slaves ‘workers’, publisher admits error

A Texas mother’s online posts showing her son’s high school textbook referring to African slaves as “workers” has prompted an apology from the book’s publisher.

McGraw-Hill Education says more diversity will be added to its review boards.

CEO David Levin said Monday in a letter to employees that the company made a mistake. He says slavery “was a horrible part of American history” and that the publisher will provide teachers with a free supplemental lesson plan about the Atlantic slave trade.

Roni Dean-Burren was prompted to speak out after her history-loving 15-year-old son, who’s a freshman at Pearland High School, sent her a picture taken of a page in his World Geography textbook, which described African slaves as immigrant workers.

Alarm bells rang when she read the caption she was sent from a section in the book called ‘patterns of immigration’.

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“The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations,” the caption read.

“The word ‘workers’ stuck out to me. It’s as if black people ‘worked’ our way up in America. As if we came here by choice for a better life,” her son told KPRC.

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“If you read any other history book you would see that Africa had some of the most advanced systems in civilization.”

Dean-Burren decided to record a video about the caption to spark a Facebook discussion.

“So, it is now considered immigration,” Dean-Burren said in a video posted to Facebook, adding “there is no mention of Africans working as slaves or being slaves, it just says we were workers.”

The video, posted Oct. 1, had been watched nearly two million times in one week, liked by over 10,000 users and shared nearly 50,000 times.

WATCH: Mother explores textbook and caption that erased black slavery by calling them ‘workers’

McGraw-Hill responded a day later and has taken measures to correct future publications.

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“We believe we can do better. To communicate these facts more clearly, we will update this caption to describe the arrival of African slaves in the U.S. as a forced migration and emphasize that their work was done as slave labor,” the publisher said Oct. 2 in a statement.

After the change was announced Dean-Burren, who is a former English teacher and currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Houston, posted the notice to her Facebook page with the caption:

The changes will be made immediately to digital versions of the text and will be included in the next printed run of the textbook, the publisher said.

Texas officials say roughly a quarter of the state’s 1,200 school districts are using digital or physical versions of the book in classrooms this year.

Global News has reached out to Dean-Burren for comment.

With files from the Associated Press

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