November 18th, 2015

Texas Lawmakers Refuse to Fact-Check Racially Offensive Textbooks

In fall 2015, Coby Burren, a 15-year-old black boy and high school freshman was reading the textbook assigned for his geography course when he came across a full-page map depicting patterns of migration to America. The map text described “The Atlantic Slave Trade” as a route that “brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.”

Recognizing the problems in that characterization, Cody used his cell phone to take a photograph of the page and sent it to his mother, Roni Dean-Burren, who soon voiced her objections in written and video posts on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The posts were widely shared and sparked outrage and controversy. In response, the textbook company, McGraw Hill Education, announced that it would edit the text to describe the kidnapping, auctioning and dehumanization of Africans as a “forced migration.” McGraw Hill also offered unsatisfied customers stickers to cover the passage until they are able to reprint the textbook. However, complaints about the textbook extended beyond a single map, including the book’s use of passive verb construction and focus on misleading and inaccurate representations of slavery.

Researchers note that Texas educational leaders have a unique influence in textbook drafting for the entire nation; economics incentivize publishers to create content that caters to the politics and preferences of large-scale buyers, and Texas purchases such a large number of books for students within the state that they are among the most powerful customers in the industry. Without additional standards or protections, there are no checks to ensure that the content is sensitive, accurate, and representative of diverse perspectives.

In response to the outcry that followed exposure of the McGraw-Hill textbook content, some Texas legislators proposed a bill that would have required all new Texas textbooks undergo a system of fact-checking by university professors before they could be approved for use. However, on November 18, 2015, the state legislature voted against the bill. In fall 2016, textbook controversy again erupted in Texas, this time about a Mexican-American History book proposed for use in state public schools, which academics and community members decried as “blatantly racist.”


November 18th, 1983

James Cody Tortured by Chicago Police

On November 18, 1983, James Cody was beaten with a flashlight, subjected to electric shocks on his testicles and buttocks, and threatened with castration by officers acting under Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. Over the course of almost 30 years, Burge oversaw and participated in the torture of over one hundred black men, resulting in scores of forced confessions. He first took command of the jurisdiction known as Area 2 as a detective in 1972, at which time he and his men, known as the “Midnight Crew,” began forcing confessions using brutal torture practices, such as beatings, suffocation, electric shock, burning, Russian roulette, and mock executions.

In 1982, Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Daley became aware that Burge was torturing people when he received a letter stating that Burge had abused a man named Andrew Wilson, who was beaten, shocked, suffocated, burned with a radiator and had a gun forced into his mouth. Wilson’s civil suit against the city was one of numerous complaints and lawsuits alleging torture by Burge and his men. Despite this, the State’s Attorney’s office would continue to use the forced confessions to convict and incarcerate of dozens of black men over the next ten years.

It was not until 1991 that, under pressure from advocacy groups, international human rights organizations, and torture survivors, an investigation was launched. Two years later, Burge was fired for the abuse of Andrew Wilson. Fifteen years after that, Jon Burge was convicted of perjury for lying under oath in one of the civil suits filed against him. He served less than four years in prison. In 2015, the city of Chicago approved a $5.5 million reparations package that included an apology as well as curricular reforms that would highlight the survivors’ stories in schools. Despite the review and reversal of many convictions that were obtained under Burge’s command, close to twenty survivors remain in prison and have not yet had their cases reviewed.