Update: Author and historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar wrote to thank us for stating these concerns. She noted that a corrected version is already in production (pre-dating our post). The publisher will send it to us shortly. We’ll add another update here once we receive it.
A young reader’s adaptation of the popular Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar is due to be released by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing in January of 2019.
We* were excited to see that Dunbar’s important book would reach middle and high school students.
However, based on what we’ve read so far in the advance reader’s copy, we hope there is time for the publisher to make corrections.
It appears that liberties were taken by the publisher in simplifying the book for young readers that mis-represent history.
For example, on page 17, the advance copy of the young reader’s edition of Never Caught states that plantations could not have been successful without enslaved labor. George Washington’s business ventures would have failed. This is an extraordinary defense of, or excuse for, the brutal, centuries- and generations-long system of chattel slavery in the United States.
It should go without saying that this is not true.
Businesses succeed every day with paid labor. Economic cooperatives, including agricultural cooperatives, succeed. And there is no measure of “success” for an enterprise dependent on chattel slavery.
This text should either be removed, or it should be reworded to say that “George Washington profited so greatly from human trafficking and forced labor that he holds the record as the second (after Trump) wealthiest president in the history of the United States.”
But do not state that enslaved labor was necessary.
On page 21, the advance reader’s copy of Never Caught states that all the people who were enslaved at Mount Vernon did not work on Sundays. Really? That, of course, is simply not true.
We are continuing to review the advance copy of the young reader’s edition of Never Caught — however we did not want to delay in raising our concern about these two excerpts.
*This statement is submitted by the staff of Teaching for Change and Ann L. Chinn, executive director of the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP) and a descendant of the enslaved population at Mount Vernon.
Missing from Presidents’ Day: The People They Enslaved. An article by Clarence Lusane, professor at Howard University and author of The Black History of the White House.
George Washington and Slavery: Going Beyond Picture Books to Teach about Our Flawed Founders. An article by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, James Joshua Coleman, and Lindsay R. Cicchino. In Social Education 82(3), pp. 143–148 © 2018 National Council for the Social Studies.
Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project. A project to honor the two million captive Africans who perished during the transatlantic crossing known as the Middle Passage and the ten million who survived to build the Americas.