Racialized American Political Identity in Denver Public School Textbooks During the Americanization Era
By Caitlin Ross
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, immigration from southern and eastern Europe to the United States reached its apex. Politicians and educators worried about how to best to “digest” this “body of aliens” into dominant White culture and institutions. They concluded that the answer was “Americanization” which was the term that reformers, politicians, educators, and other advocates for educative assimilation used at the time. A principal from DeWitt Clinton High School in New York exemplified the Americanization Movement when he wrote, “[E]ducation will solve every problem of our national life, even that of assimilating our foreign element…Ignorance is the mother of anarchy, poverty, and crime. The nation has a right to demand intelligence and virtue of every citizen, and to obtain these by force if necessary.” DeWitt’s willingness to force immigrants into a particular vision of the American citizen and his idealistic view of the possibilities of formal education illustrates the inherent duality of the Americanization Movement. The government, reformers, and educators pressured the new immigrants to “Americanize” in order to be fully accepted as citizens.
Americanization had two primary goals: English literacy, and the production of “intelligent and patriotic” citizens who were “familiar with our laws, customs, ideals, and the fundamental facts of our history.” Although Americanization prioritized the legal process of naturalization, it also emphasized the adoption of American values and loyalty. As one Rochester newspaper described, “it is desirable that the foreigners who come here to stay permanently should be helped and encouraged to become American both in name and in sympathies.” Immigrants and their families often became Americanized through formal classes offered by an employer, a private group of reform enthusiasts, or the government itself via public schools. Educators and other proponents of Americanization took two essential avenues to accomplish their goals: night classes for adults and public-school attendance for their children.
Reformers who promoted Americanization saw Asian and Mexican people as unsuitable for American citizenship. In fact, the racial status of Indigenous peoples and people of Asian, and Mexican heritage excluded them from citizenship either legally or socially. Therefore, Americanization efforts often did not target non-white peoples. The U.S. government explicitly stated this policy in the annual report from the Commission of Naturalization to the Secretary of Labor in 1917. The report labeled people eligible for naturalized citizenship as “Foreign Born White Males.” This was consistent with immigration laws dating to the 1790 Naturalization Act that restricted citizenship to “free white persons,” legislation that was not fully overturned until 1952. The American history and civics curriculum in Denver public high schools reinforced the legal system that made Whiteness a prerequisite for citizenship.
The American history and civics curriculum in Denver public high schools reinforced the legal system that made Whiteness a prerequisite for citizenship.
The main question I seek to answer is to what extent high school history and civics curricula used within Denver Public Schools (DPS) and adult night classes the district offered in the 1910s and 1920s promoted a racialized version of American political citizenship. However, examining what adult educators or politicians asked young people to learn can provide us with a window into young people’s educational experience and the context of their political and racial realities. Within my analysis I utilize Omi and Winant’s theory of racial formation. They argue that “race is a way of making up people.” They assert that the first step of the process of making race is racialization, which they define as “the extension of racial meaning to a previously racially unclassified relationship, social practice, or group.” The U.S. government racialized southern and eastern European immigrants in the early 20th century by labeling the immigrants as “Foreign Born Whites” in documents ranging from the census to Department of Labor reports. This label legally qualified these immigrants for U.S. citizenship. However, the government’s label did not line up with established white society, which did not automatically accept Southern and Eastern Europeans as fellow whites. Education furthered the process of racialization when immigrants’ children entered American schools and the textbooks that they used promoted racist depictions of Black and Indigenous peoples to justify their exclusion from American democracy and portrayed American political citizenship as rightfully White.
In 1919, Denver Public School U.S. history curricula for high school and adult classrooms implicitly and explicitly racialized American citizenship. Textbooks argued that southern and eastern European immigrants could become American through proper assimilation, but simultaneously asserted that all Black, Indigenous, and Latinx peoples were unfit to fully participate in democratic government. Educators expected the children of eastern and southern European immigrants to learn American racial hierarchies as one key understanding of the “Official Knowledge” that was part of their Americanized education. My research indicates that curricula for high school juniors in DPS promoted a version of American political citizenship that contained explicit and implicit elements of racialization. The relationship between race and alleged capacity for democratic citizenship was unmistakably apparent in the texts for high schoolers but was camouflaged in the adult facing Americanization curriculum.
My research uses textual analysis of popular high school American History and Civics textbooks that were used in Denver Public Schools (DPS). While textbooks and curricula may not fully encapsulate the student experience, these materials can reveal how the paradigms of scholars, educators, and government officials form policies that can potentially affect young people’s perception of race and citizenship. Centralization and efficiency were hallmarks of life and work in early 20th century-America. The ideas of efficiency and standardization also permeated schools. The spirit of efficiency, combined with short teacher training programs, resulted in an educational culture where teachers relied heavily on district-provided texts, making textbooks even more significant historical sources.
I also utilize teacher-facing materials such as a training pamphlet produced by Denver Public Schools on what and how to teach to adult students attending Americanization night classes. In addition, I use local newspapers and government reports on Americanization efforts. These public accounts help contextualize school curricula and initiatives. While we will never know the impact of curricula on individual students, we can make some assumptions about how ideas of racialized political citizenship in America expanded to the culture at large through secondary schools. Schools were, and continue to be, arenas to generate skills and knowledge, but schools also inculcate values and forge identities. Indeed, that was the assumption on which proponents of Americanization operated.
I approach my research primarily through the lens of critical pedagogy. Accordingly, I contend that education is never neutral or apolitical, which leads me to critique education as a system of power. As previously mentioned, I also engage with Omi and Winant’s theory of racialization and apply it to Americanization and curriculum. I was inspired by historians who skillfully articulate the historical production of Whiteness who have chronicled how Whiteness was not a static racial category but a malleable political and economic tool. I build on these analyses by applying their findings to an educational context.
Even in recent publications, historians disagree about whether to applaud or critique Americanization efforts at the turn of the century. Jeffrey E. Mirel’s Patriotic Pluralism represents the positive view of Americanization, arguing that cultural and institutional forces changed new European immigrants, and those same immigrants displayed agency and successfully redefined the identity of an “American” to be more inclusive and multicultural. Mirel dismisses arguments that Americanization was deeply racialized or connected to Whiteness, and instead claims that Americanization was devoted to the “ideas of democracy, equality, and freedom” to which all students could aspire. Significantly, scholars who do center race in their analysis of the history of education in the United States study student non-White populations. By largely applying ideas of race only to students of color, scholars have unintentionally furthered the idea of Whiteness as the status quo and therefore a non-race. This analysis centers race as a component of national memory and national belonging for students whom we now consider White, but who occupied a racial grey area in the early 20th century.
In contrast to Mirel, Frank Van Nuys focuses exclusively on the American West and places race in the forefront of his discussion of Americanization. Van Nuys argues that the West was a location where White racial anxiety and questions of national belonging were particularly acute in the post-frontier period due to high rates of immigration from China, Japan, and Mexico. In the Western “racial frontier” immigrants from Asia and Mexico were legally labeled by the U.S. government as unsuitable for citizenship, and thus there was no serious consideration of Americanization efforts for these groups. Furthermore, Van Nuys argues that the “new immigrants” from Europe were at a disadvantage due to the commonly held belief that they were not-quite-White, but could potentially overcome that barrier through assimilation. Much of the existing literature on Americanization in public schools focuses on large cities on the East Coast or industrial cities in the Midwest. The case study on Denver Public Schools that I present offers a new geographic focus of this topic by placing it in an urban context in the Mountain West and shifts the primary attention from adults to young people.
Historical Background: Racial Constructions and Demographics
Conceptions of race dictated who was eligible for citizenship, and therefore Americanization, and who was not. Three years after the Constitution was signed, the Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted citizenship to what it labeled “free white people.” In 1868, the 14th Amendment officially expanded citizenship to Black people, which was further protected by the 1870 Naturalization Act. Despite this expansion, the 1870 Naturalization Act continued to deny other non-White immigrants the option to gain citizenship. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Black Americans experienced the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and high levels of racial terrorism that made their status as non-citizens in practice, if not in law, clear. In order to be eligible for full political citizenship, a person had to be labeled as a “Foreign Born White Male of Voting Age.” In 1920, the total population of Denver was 256,491. The 1920 Census listed 212,024 people as “Native White,” and 37,620 “Foreign Born White,” which meant that 14.7% of Denver was eligible for Americanization as “Foreign Born Whites.” Within Denver, there were 6,075 people listed as “Negro” and 772 were listed as “Indian, Chinese, Japanese and all other.” “Foreign Born Whites” were naturalizing and gaining citizenship rapidly. In 1920, there were 19,728 males 21 and over living in Denver that were “Foreign Born White” and 12,300 of them had been fully naturalized and another 2,912 had obtained their “First papers” and were on the road to citizenship. The fastest way for these “Foreign Born Whites” to be naturalized was to begin Americanization classes in Denver Public Schools.
Denver School District One (Denver Public Schools) also tracked the racial demographics of their student population. The 1921-1922 Annual Report from the Superintendent of Denver School District One shows that there were 6,089 “Native Born” students enrolled in Senior Highs, and only 145 students that were “Foreign Born.” The district’s population was stable by 1924-1925 when there were 6,601 “Native Born” and 124 “Foreign Born” students in Denver’s Senior Highs. While these students were not explicitly separated out by color, the implication is that the first category were “Native Born” Whites, and the latter category were “Foreign Born” Whites. By 1925-1926 Denver District One began to count students by color, listing students as “Native Born White,” (6,699 students) “Foreign Born White,” (141) “Colored,” (122) “Mexican,” (6) or “Yellow” (10). This data illustrates two significant points. First, it reveals that most of the students who were not “Native Born Whites” in Denver Public Schools at this time were “Foreign Born Whites.” Secondly, due to the demographics listed prior to 1925, we may assume there were no Black, Latinx, or Asian students enrolled in Denver Public Schools. If this were true, it was either because the student enrollment for these populations was so small that DPS did not count it, or because they were prohibited from attending mainstream public schools. Either way, this reiterates the importance of the label “White” because the population of “Foreign Born White” students had more equitable access to formal education similar to how their parents had access to formal citizenship.
Arriving immigrants likely saw themselves as Russians, Greeks, Italians, or another category that we would now see as a nationality or an ethnicity, and not necessary as “White” people. The 1920 Census reflects that within Denver, most “Foreign Born Whites” originated from Russia (14.2%), Germany (12.4%), Sweden (10.5%), England (9.4%), Ireland (8.6%), Canada (8.2%), or Italy (7.6%). Despite listing the “Country of Birth” for some within the state and within Denver, the immigrants were ultimately categorized as “Foreign Born Whites,” which was distinct from the other four categories on the census: “Negro,” “Chinese,” “Japanese,” or “All other.” Ngai describes the process of simultaneously acknowledging an “ethnic” identity while assigning a new White racial identity explaining, “Euro-Americans acquired both ethnicities-that is, nationality-based identities that were presumed to be transformable-and a racial identity based on whiteness that was presumed to be unchangeable. This distinction gave all Euro-Americans a stake in what Matthew Jacobson has called a ‘consanguine white race’ and facilitated their Americanization.” By lumping all new immigrants in as “White Foreign Born” the United States racialized previously non-White people to be White, which gave these new immigrants political power as well as a new racial identity. Examining Americanization illuminates how ideas about race and American political citizenship intersected.
The Americanization Movement of the early 20th century was a wide-ranging effort by the United States government, businesses, employers, reformers, and schools to convert southern and eastern European immigrants into full American citizens, both culturally and legally. This was not only seen as a service to immigrants but a conversion necessary to safeguard democracy. The 1920 census counted 13,920,700 people as immigrants, or 13.2% of the total population.  David S. Muzzey, author of the American History textbook used in DPS in the early 20th century, posed this question to his young readers: “Can we assimilate and mold into citizenship the millions who are coming to our shores, or will they remain an ever-increasing body of aliens, an undigested and indigestible element in our body politic, and a constant menace to our free institutions?” Muzzey’s query represented the fear that educators, as well as politicians and reformers, felt in response to nearly unprecedented levels of migration. Despite the government’s legal classification, the established “old stock” of Western and Northern European American Whites viewed new immigrants as unsuited and unprepared for participation in a democracy. This belief resulted in the massive effort to expand education for adults and young people so that they could be cultivated into citizens and assimilated into the “body politic” of American White democracy.
Reformers and government officials relied on, and deepened, the hierarchical and centralized nature of schools to further a homogenous curriculum. The effort to Americanize students was both a continuation and an extension of previous educational goals. Matthew Gardner Kelly argues that the centralization of education was taking place in California in the mid-1800s in order to “convert California into an American place” because of its representation as a location that had “lawlessness, weak governmental authority, and racial anxiety.” Centralization enabled standardization, which was seen as the engine of modernity, civilization, and therefore Whiteness.
Americanization efforts relied on new policies like compulsory attendance laws. The success of compulsory schooling is evident in the 1920 Colorado Census. The Census recorded that in Denver County, 96.5% of children between the ages of seven and thirteen, 83.7% of young people fourteen and fifteen years old, and 51.1% of young people sixteen and seventeen years old attended school. Importantly, the census itself seemed to connect school attendance and citizenship by listing the data for both under the same heading and on the same page. Some scholars argue that the origin of compulsory education was a consequence of nativist concerns in the early 20th century. Bandiera, Mohnen, Rasul, and Viarengo write, “compulsory schooling laws were used as a nation-building tool to homogenize the civic values held by the tens of millions of culturally diverse migrants who moved to America during the ‘Age of Mass Migration’ between 1850 and 1914.” Thus, public schools and teachers expanded their role as missionaries of both racial order and American identity.
Academics and educational leaders championed Americanization in a way that appeared egalitarian, although Americanization was fundamentally racially exclusionary because of its connection to political citizenship, which itself was limited to Whites. Dr. George Norlin, who served as President of the University of Colorado Boulder, summarized the university’s goals in the Denver Post. The university, he argued,
recognized before the beginning of the war the need for a system of making Americans of the foreign population in Colorado. The extension department under the direction of Professor Stephens, held classes, largely in the mining districts, to instruct these people in reading, writing, and speaking our language, in American history, geography, and government. The aim was to prepare them not simply for formal naturalization, but for genuine citizenship in the United States.
Norlin’s remarks reveal many assumptions about Americanization – most importantly, the idea that immigrants were not Americans by virtue of living in the country and that they had to be instructed and cultivated into their Americanness.
In school, children experienced patriotic rituals to foster a sense of emotional connection to symbols such as the flag, and an English and History curriculum that revered the Anglo-American canon. Historian Cecilia O’Leary points out many of the trappings of a traditional U.S. classroom originated during the early twentieth century: the daily pledge of allegiance, the nearly universal flying of the flag and the ceremonies surrounding it, and the display of portraits of national heroes like Washington. Similar to the rituals and symbols that schools embraced, the curriculum that students encountered was also standardized by educators and patriotic reformers. Educators exposed students to texts and curriculum that were the same, or highly similar, across the nation because the goal was to “unite the nation around common language, culture, and political ideals.” Mirel, although a defender of Americanization, writes that “Many of these courses, particularly those in English, history, and civics, clearly encouraged Americanization by concentrating overwhelmingly on the works and deeds of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.” This is clear from the book titles listed in the Denver Public School Directory for 1915-1916 and 1919-1920, which are the only existing directories for the time. Titles for high school Literature include many works of Shakespeare like Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Midsummer Night’s Dream, and titles from American history like Franklin’s Autobiography and Lincoln’s Addresses. The history and civics textbooks that DPS used promoted an exclusively White American Democracy more explicitly.
Racist American Political Identity in High School Textbooks
Textbooks represent the official knowledge that public schools promote. Schools relied on textbooks heavily in the early 20th century as a way to support a teaching force that generally had little training and even less content expertise. For the 1919-1920 school year Denver Public Schools 11th graders utilized David S. Muzzey’s An American History, which was first published in 1911, and Ashley Roscoe Lewis’ The New Civics: A Textbook for Secondary Schools, which was published in 1917. The “New Civics” Ashley’s title refers to was the shift to make the goal of Civics courses less about government structures and more about citizenship, so that “the youthful citizen should know how society is organized and what he should do for society as well as what it does for him, as a citizen and a member of that society.” DPS used Muzzey’s text consistently until at least 1931, while Ashley’s text fell out of favor more quickly. Across the nation Muzzey’s book was one of the most popular American history texts for the first half of the twentieth century.
Textbooks promoted a racialized version of American history and citizenship to high school students, including those who were part of the 38,941 or more “Foreign Born Whites” in Denver by 1919. Given the racial politics of the period, especially the rising eugenics movement, perhaps this seems unremarkable. However, the audience for these texts were young people whose teachers told them they were receiving a patriotic education in order to become “genuine citizens.” Public schools promoted official knowledge that simultaneously called into question immigrants’ racial fitness for democracy while emphasizing racist perceptions of groups further down the racial hierarchy. In order to be assimilated, “Foreign-born Whites” had to be successfully socialized into the American racial hierarchy, and that meant understanding who a legitimate political citizen was and who was not.
According to Muzzey, Northern Europeans, particularly the English, were ideal democratic citizens. Although much rarer than the racist descriptions of people of color, Muzzey’s text has instances of positively associating English heritage, and White identity, with democracy. Muzzey writes of early colonists, “They were all predominately of English blood, with the inheritance of the English traditions of self-government.” Muzzey attributes colonists’ preparation and desire for “self-government” that would eventually result in the creation of the United States to their “English blood.”
Muzzey argues that Black and Indigenous people were unfit for citizenship by promoting racist stereotypes. In contrast to the positive descriptions of Scots-Irish, Muzzey furthers white supremist descriptions of both Black and Indigenous people when he writes, “They [Indigenous people in the Gulf of Mexico] had a great variety of games and dances, solemn and gay; and they loved to bask idly in the sun, too, like the Mississippi negro of to-day.” Muzzey’s reference to the indigenous peoples in the “Gulf of Mexico” itself is a misrepresentation because it is a very broad generalization that groups together hundreds of peoples and nations. Muzzey’s history text consistently describes people of color, specifically Black and Indigenous people, in negative racist caricatures. Muzzey’s most modern mention of Indigenous people is to congratulate Indian boarding schools “like Hampton and Carlisle,” which through their dedication to assimilation, would “forever divest the word ‘Indian’ of its associations with the tomahawk, torture, and treachery.” Muzzey also claims that the American South was the “home of the negro,” because the South was the “part of our land whose climate fitted his physique and whose labor fitted his intellect.” Although Muzzey did not promote a specific racial identity as American, his descriptions of oppressed groups made clear he saw them as not fully human, let alone Americans. By advancing ideas of Indigenous people as savages and Black people as exclusively fit for hard labor, the official knowledge of American history that Muzzey created communicated a clear racial hierarchy to all students – especially to immigrant students who were new to the country and likely less familiar with American racial castes.
Other sections of the books shift their focus away from who is the ideal citizen and who is not fully human, to which racial groups could become desirable citizens. Muzzey also described people now considered White in racist ways, although in notably less extreme ways. Muzzey describes the “race problem” of immigration, which he says has only been a “race problem” within the most recent years, because “Before 1880 over four fifths of all the immigrants to the United States were from Canada and the northern countries of Europe, which were allied to us in blood, language, customs, religion and political ideas.” Muzzey’s identification of race as both immutable and physical (blood), and mutable and cultural (language, customs, religion and political ideas) exemplifies both ends of the spectrum of Americanization: the assimilationists who believed immigrants could be incorporated into the nation, and the restrictionists who believed that they could not. Muzzey argues that the new immigrants were fundamentally different from previous immigrants or White people born in the U.S. by stating that immigrants “no longer come impelled by the desire to build up new homes in the new land” but are “brought over by the agents of steamship companies or large corporations and set to work.” Ashley promotes similar ideas, “Recent arrivals have been neither Celtic or Teutonic, as were the early settlers in this country and the immigrants until about a quarter century ago. They have lower standards of living, practically no experience in self-government, and probably less capacity for self-government than earlier immigrants.” Muzzey and Ashley believe the racial distinctions of new immigrants were to blame for their deficiencies. In reality, however, these immigrants did not become small-scale farmers in the mode of the Jeffersonian ideal because of a lack of desire or innate capacity. The context of the world had entirely changed. The American economy and society had urbanized; government programs that enabled access to cheap land for poor Whites, like the Homestead Act, were over. Neither Muzzey nor Ashley acknowledge the different economic and geographic contexts that the new immigrants stepped into. Instead, they argue that immigrants’ biological heritage was to blame for their inability to embody the independent yeoman of the republican ideal.
Ashley portrays new not-quite-White immigrants as a distinct racial group who were therefore incapable of democratic participation but could become so through proper assimilation. Ashley claims that “Problems have recently arisen because most of the immigrants have had no experience in self-government and belong to different racial stocks from the Americans who founded our republic.” The “problem” Ashley refers to is that “unscrupulous politicians have gained control over large groups of ignorant, easily led foreigners.” By tying their “racial stock” to being “ignorant” and “easily led,” Ashley first racializes new immigrants and then warns against their full political inclusion. However, in the true fashion of Americanization, Ashley later clarifies that if new immigrants were adequately educated, gainfully employed, socially integrated, and patriotic they could become good citizens. He writes, “We need not fear for the racial future of our country so long as the child of European parents loves the flag, longs to become a voter, and boasts of the fact that he is an American. Such a course of action is good for him; it is not less good for us.” Although new immigrants had the opportunity to become worthy democratic citizens through assimilation, people of color were not granted the same possibility.
In contrast to the new immigrants, who could become legitimate participants in democracy, both Muzzey and Ashley argue that Black voters would always be unqualified, and therefore their exclusion from democratic participation was justified. Muzzey directly criticizes the idea of Black political citizenship, while Ashley accepts efforts to restrict Black people from voting as benign. Muzzey asserts that formerly enslaved Black people had specific negative characteristics that were immutable, which made them incapable of democratic participation. Muzzey wonders aloud, “Why did the Republican Congress of 1867 put upon the South the unbearable burden of negro rule supported by the bayonet?” He suggests one reason was that “Some misguided humanitarians, like Sumner, let their sympathy for the oppressed slave confuse their judgment of the negro’s intellectual capacity.” Students who were assigned to read Muzzey’s text could have internalized his references to the alleged inferiority of Black people. This is especially true for new immigrants who likely approached their reading with less context, eager to learn the ways of their new country and society.
Another argument that Muzzey presents is that extending citizenship to Black citizenship was simply unfair to Southern Whites, who had the inherent right to be in power. He claims that Black people were not only racially inferior and therefore unfit for political citizenship but that political rights for formerly enslaved men were an encroachment on White Southern authority, “Thus by the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 Congress deliberately forced negro suffrage on the South at the point of the bayonet. It was a violent measure for Congress to adopt.” He continues, “To set the ignorant, superstitious, gullible slave in power over his former master, was no way to insure either the protection of the negro’s right or the stability and peace of the Southern government.” Finally, Muzzey claims that freedmen were unfairly encouraged to believe they would get 40 acres and a mule by “broke-down politicians, who came from the North and posed as the guides and protectors of the colored race, poisoning the minds of the negroes against the only people who could really help them begin their new life of freedom well, — their old masters.” The idea that new freedmen needed Northern carpetbaggers to tempt them away from a beneficial relationship with their former enslavers falsely assumes multiple things: first, that Black people were not independent-minded enough to stay clear of former enslavers through their own initiative; second, that former enslavers had the interest of formerly enslaved people in mind. Muzzey’s description of Black men’s alleged susceptibility to carpetbaggers is very similar to Ashley’s criticism of new immigrants as “ignorant, easily led foreigners” who were easily manipulated by political bosses. The texts both justify racial political exclusion by linking the alleged lack of independent thought to race. The authors envisioned new White immigrants as capable of morphing into legitimate political citizens via Americanization while they portrayed Black people as perpetual dependents who could not be trusted to participate in a democracy. These opposing constructions helped to define the new immigrants as White citizens because they were shown as definitively not Black.
Although he stops short of directly criticizing the presence of Black political rights, Ashley still describes Southern efforts to block Black voters as permissible, if not preferable. He writes, “A few southern states, in a rather successful attempt to exclude negroes, adopted ‘grandfather clauses.’ These clauses provided that any person who failed to meet the state requirement, that is, ability to read or possession of property, should not be excluded if he or one of his ancestors had voted before 1867.” Ashley only applies the idea of strict requirements for political participation to Black voters. His account of grandfather clauses appears directly after he states, “Some states have tried to raise the intellectual standard of the voter by shutting out those who cannot read or write.” Both texts clearly racialize American political citizenship by arguing for the legitimate exclusion of Black voters based on their alleged mental and moral deficiencies.
Muzzey extends the racist argument that non-White groups were incapable of self-government to Indigenous and Puerto Rican people. He dismisses any concept of Indigenous sovereignty, which continues to be the most important political goal of most Indigenous groups. He ridicules Sioux resistance to colonization as “stubborn but vain.” Muzzey’s trivialization of Sioux sovereignty as “vain” reveals his belief that they did not deserve self-government. Similarly, Muzzey claims that Puerto Rico cannot be a state and Puerto Ricans cannot “enjoy complete self-government” because the island’s “ million inhabitants of mixed Spanish, Indian, and negro blood are not qualified for the responsibilities of an American commonwealth.” Similar to the government policies that excluded non-White people from citizenship and Americanization programs, Denver high school textbooks reinforced a racially exclusive definition of American political identity through their discussion of who was and who was not capable of self-government.
Adult Americanization Curriculum
Public schools throughout the country offered naturalization classes during the Americanization era. Night classes aimed to prepare immigrant men and women for naturalization by teaching English, American History, civics, and geography that would prepare all White candidates for naturalization and after the 19th Amendment in 1920, both men and women for political participation. Local schools and the Bureau of Naturalization collaborated to create this program. The Bureau was so invested in this program that it published its own textbook in 1918. The Bureau of Naturalization generated lists of eligible adults and assist with student recruitment, and local schools provided classrooms, educators, and often curriculum.
The adult Americanization curriculum aimed to create patriotic feeling and allegiance by promoting American Exceptionalism, which had innate elements of racialization. The Denver Times described Denver Public Schools’ adult Americanization program’s historical component, “The new arrival is given courses in American history in which the heroic precepts of heroic Americans are held up for silent worship…they ‘eat up’ the passages wherein Americans struggle and American ideals of individual liberty and behavior are set forth.” Professors of education and local educator Emily Griffith wrote the booklet and DPS published it. The booklet provides an opportunity for this “silent worship” of American heroes. The booklet laid out curriculum and pedagogical suggestions for the teachers who taught evening Americanization classes that the Bureau of Naturalization helped form. Part I is dedicated to teaching English. Part II is much shorter and is dedicated to “American Citizenship.” The guide takes a moment to quote the 1917 Annual Report from the Bureau of Naturalization that “‘Genuine citizenship is primarily a state of inward feeling, and only secondarily one of knowledge.’” American exceptionalism drove teachers to cultivate a reductive version of American history. In the words of The Denver Times, the Denver Public Schools Americanization program’s goal is to “take(s) outsiders, men and women who have a resentment against the community in which they live, and tries to make them like it.” When compared to the racialized definition of American political identity that public education provided to their children, curricular materials for adults disguised their racial elements.
Although not overtly racist, the American history portion of the booklet ignores all difference, oppressions, and exclusions in United States history. It outlines a very general narrative that begins with “the causes which brought the Pilgrims and other early colonists to America” and ends with “a review of American wars to show the principles of justice which have activated the nation.” This language created a sense of allegiance and loyalty to the American ideals of religious freedom and democracy. It very strategically ignores any mention of something that could be seen as negative such as forced removal of indigenous peoples or enslavement as critical systems that helped to establish the United States.
Another way that the adult curriculum promoted American Exceptionalism is through its discussion of the Constitution. Some government officials, educators, and reformers were concerned that new immigrants would bring radical political ideas, including anarchism to the United States. The curriculum highlights sanctioned strategies to express displeasure towards the government in order to curb any potential radical proclivities that the immigrants may have had. The section titled “Constitution and Government” asks teachers to have students memorize the purpose of Articles I – VII of the Constitution, which lay out all of the branches of government and how they relate to one another, and instructs teachers to emphasize the Bill of Rights, which is labeled as “Exceeding important.” By focusing on the Bill of Rights, the curriculum concentrates on the ways that the government protects citizens, and underscored the tolerable avenues for grievance like speech or assembly.
Other texts were more overt in their scheme to use the Constitution as a method to reassure new immigrants. In a monograph written by Emily Griffith and William H. Smiley to explain and publicize the work of the Emily Griffith Opportunity School in 1926, they stated that the naturalization classes were “calculated to inspire strong feeling regarding the blessings they enjoy under the Constitution.” The booklet’s strategy to emphasize the best of American history and government is made explicit on the final page, “Our national security depends on the contentment of our citizenry. If the least incentive toward contentment can be given in the classrooms, the opportunity to give it should not be passed by.” Clearly, the curriculum creators saw adults as potentially more skeptical of Americanization than their children. The adult textbook written and published by the Bureau of Naturalization also emphasized cultivating loyal feelings based on a version of America that was remarkably inclusive and free:
The United States is governed by its citizens. When I become a citizen I shall help govern the United States. In the country where I was born I was a subject of the country. In this country I may become a sovereign of the country. Each citizen of the United States is a sovereign instead of being a subject. The citizens govern the country…When I become a citizen I shall vote; and I shall vote for the one whom I believe to be most able to fill the office. When I become a citizen of the United States I shall be a citizen of my native country no longer. I may love my native land, but I love the Government of America better, because under its laws all citizens are free and equal. This is not only a law of man but it is a law of God.
The assertion that “each citizen is a sovereign instead of being a subject” is seemingly in conflict with the high school textbook’s descriptions of communities of color, particularly those by Muzzey. After all, the surface lack of any stipulations about who was or who was not qualified for American citizenship is in stark contrast to Muzzey and Ashley’s accounts. However, we must recognize two inherent elements of racialization. The first is that “citizen” legally and literally meant “White,” and accordingly, that everyone who had the opportunity to read this and participate in Americanization was White. Secondly, while the historical narrative presented in these materials is not obviously racialized, its complete silence on immense issues in American history such as indigenous removal or enslavement, functions to whiten American history and identity. Despite not including any clearly racist language or justifications, the adult curriculum accomplishes important political tasks by presenting the United States as purely democratic and equal. It rejects any potential critique of United States democracy as fundamentally ahistorical and false, and it passively labels any individuals or groups who are discontent with their political rights as deluded or ignorant. Curriculum authors sought to limit any potential criticisms or nascent radicalism by presenting American Exceptionalism as a simple fact.
High school textbooks in Denver communicated a racialized version of American political citizenship that alleged only White people had the adequate capacity for participation in United States democracy while the adult curriculum presented a covertly racialized account of history. The racialized political identity of America promoted in the high school texts served a political aim – to restrict students’ (future citizens) conception of who should and could be a legitimate political actor. The authors of the adult texts also had a political intention: to inculcate striving citizens with loyalty to the United States and protect against any negative perception. Through the curriculum’s strategic silences, the adult Americanization classes promoted a version of American history and identity embedded with white supremist ideology. The scholars and curriculum authors consciously attempted to racialize American political identity in different ways in the adult compared to the high school texts. While the reason for this difference is not completely clear, it is a significant reminder that education can serve racial political aims even when it may appear to be colorblind. All education, but particularly the official knowledge of historical and civic education, is never neutral.
Recent events in the United States, such as: the seemingly endless deaths of unarmed Black people at the hands of police officers; the start of a U.S. immigration policy that removed children from their families at our Southern border and subsequently caged them; and voting restrictions imposed by states that are reminiscent of the Jim Crow era, have put questions of race, immigration, belonging, and access to political citizenship in the forefront of many minds. In this moment of reckoning with who the state treats as a full human, perhaps it was inevitable that the culture war over public school history curriculum would once again surface. One example of this divide is the controversy over the 1619 Project and the 1776 Commission. The 1619 Project is a series of essays that reframed American history with Black Americans and enslavement at the center of American history. The essays highlight both the oppression and contributions of Black people in America since 1619. Many teachers, eager for inclusive narratives, have adopted teaching these essays in English and History classrooms. The conservative response manifested in the 1776 Commission Report that the Trump Administration released in its final days to glorify the founding generation and promote American Exceptionalism. The goal of the 1776 Commission Report was to provide a hegemonic narrative of American history that emphasizes the principles of the Declaration of Independence and America’s alleged commitment to freedom and justice. It claims “The facts of our founding are not partisan. They are a matter of history.” Educators, politicians, and students should be exceedingly skeptical of any call for apolitical history or civics curriculum. No such thing exists, nor has it ever existed.
The contemporary political fight over curriculum has recently reached a crescendo with the controversy over “Critical Race Theory.” While Critical Race Theory is certainly a significant scholarship, I put the phrase in quotes because it has been used by politicians and right-wing activists in an expansive way that misrepresents CRT scholarship. While activists, politicians, and the media may be calling the fight over history education “Critical Race Theory,” the essential battle is still about what type of narrative of U.S. History ought to teach: American Exceptionalism, or a critique of U.S. government and institutions that investigates their white supremist elements and celebrates the people who have fought to change them.
Right wing politicians in various states have quickly turned the rhetorical fight over curriculum into state legislation. Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah have all passed legislation or other policies (often a resolution by a state board of education or in a budget resolution) that limit how teachers can discuss race in the classroom. The bills often use coded words like “divisive concepts,” “controversial,” or “social justice,” and several specifically name the 1619 Project as a banned text. State legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have either introduced bills or have bills already in the legislative process that accomplish the same task. While battles over curriculum have always been political, state legislatures dictating the content taught in history classrooms is a relatively new phenomenon.
Unlike Americanizers who were able to support openly racist ideas in the 1920s, the anti-“CRT” movement has to camouflage their racist goals. President Trump accused schools of teaching “hateful lies about this country” and called efforts to center race in history “toxic propaganda” and “a form of child abuse” that makes students “ashamed” of their nation’s history. The Anti-“CRT” movement has been bankrolled by dark money that is connected to various Republican groups like the National Republican Senatorial Committee, 45Committee, Concord Fund, Judicial Education Network, Honest Elections Project, and the Koch Network. One of these groups, Citizens for Renewing America, released a toolkit that describes itself as “An A-Z guide on how to stop Critical Race Theory and reclaim your local school board.” The guide promotes colorblind ideology and skillfully weaves in ideas of equality to argue against acknowledging race as an important aspect of identity or experience. This is epitomized by their full front-page quotation of Martin Luther King Jr., “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Multiple scholars have discussed the misuse and misrepresentation of King’s philosophies by right-wing activists and politicians, as well as within school curriculum. The false “objectivity” advocated for by conservative groups has been successfully labeled as “neutral” or “colorblind.” Many Americans accept this façade of colorblind “neutrality” because of the unwillingness to acknowledge the inherent political nature of public schools, and particularly history and government classes. Mainstream public schools have always taught about race, but almost exclusively in favor of Whiteness and white democracy. To truly prepare students for a multiracial democracy U.S. history curriculum will need to drastically change.
 David B. Tyack, The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education, Vol. 95 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), 232.
 Gregory Mason, “An Americanization Factory: An Account of What the Public Schools of Rochester are doing to Make Americans of Foreigners,” Outlook, February 23, 1916,442.
 Mason, “An Americanization Factory,” 439.
 Frank Van Nuys, Americanizing the West: Race, Immigrants, and Citizenship, 1890-1930 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002), 19-31. The boarding school experience endured by many indigenous people that were created to make them “civilized” roughly occurred during the same period as Americanization. The history of education as a colonizing force for indigenous North Americans is outside of the scope of this paper. For an excellent investigation of indigenous boarding schools see David Wallace Adams, Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995).
 I use the term “Mexican” instead of Latino/Hispanic intentionally because the vast majority of Latino/as in the U.S. at this time were of Mexican heritage, particularly in Denver and the entire Southwest.
 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Naturalization, Annual Report of the Commissioner of Naturalization to the Secretary of Labor (Washington, D.C., 1917).
 “Nationality Act of 1790,” The University of Texas at Austin, Accessed May 10, 2021, https://immigrationhistory.org/item/1790-nationality-act/.
 Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2014), 105.
 Omi and Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, 111.
 It is important to note that Asian immigrants were generally barred from entry into the U.S. from the 1880s to the 1950s. Textbooks that were published during this time largely ignore the fact that some people of Asian heritage were already living in the United States.
 This term comes from Michael W. Apple, Official Knowledge: Democratic Education in a Conservative Age (New York: Routledge, 2014).
 Frances FitzGerald, America Revised (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979), 19.
 Omi and Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, 109-112.
 Matthew Frye Jacobsen, Whiteness of a Different Color (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999) and David R. Roediger, Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs (New York: Basic Books, 2006).
 Jeffrey Mirel, Patriotic Pluralism: Americanization Education and European Immigrants (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), 4.
 Mirel, Patriotic Pluralism, 229-231.
 For two exceptional examples of this approach see Clif Stratton, Education for Empire: American Schools, Race, and the Paths of Good Citizenship (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016) and Adams, Education for Extinction. For a unique approach that compares Americanization of Europeans into citizens and forced assimilation of colonized peoples into American subjects in Puerto Rico see Pedro Cabán, “Subjects and Immigrants During the Progressive Era.” Discourse 23, no. 3 (2001): 24-51.
 Van Nuys, Americanizing the West, 19-31.
 Van Nuys, Americanizing the West, 24-32.
 “Fourteenth Census of the United States: State Compendium Colorado,” U.S. Census Bureau, 139. Accessed November 1, 2021. https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/1920/volume-3/41084484v3ch02.pdf.
 Denver Public Schools, Nineteenth Annual Report of School District Number One in the City and County of Denver, Colorado, 1921-1922, 15. Denver University Special Collections and Archives, Jesse H. Newlon Papers, Box 1; Denver Public Schools, Twenty-Second Annual Report of School District Number One in the City and County of Denver, Colorado, 1924-1925, 15; Denver Public Schools, Twenty-Third Annual Report of School District Number One in the City and County of Denver and State of Colorado, 1925-1926, 18. Denver University Special Collections and Archives, Jesse H. Newlon Papers, Box 1.
 1920 U.S. Census shows that over 6,000 Blacks and nearly 800 “Indian, Chinese, Japanese and all other” lived within Denver.
 “Fourteenth Census of the United States: State Compendium Colorado,” 139.
 “Fourteenth Census of the United States: State Compendium Colorado,” 29.
 Mae M. Ngai, “The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law: A Reexamination of the Immigration Act of 1924,” The Journal of American History 86, no. 1 (1999): 67-92, 70.
 “U.S. Immigrant Population and Share over Time,” Migration Policy Institute. Accessed April 21, 2021.
 David Saville Muzzey, An American History (Boston: Ginn & Company, 1911), 622.
 Matthew Gardner Kelly, “Schoolmaster’s Empire: Race, Conquest, and the Centralization of Common Schooling in California, 1848-1879,” History of Education Quarterly 56, no. 3 (2016), 1. David Tyack argues this same mentality was the reason New York City ended the ward-based organization of schools that placed the power of school administration within the immigrant-dominated neighborhoods: “Only if the ethnic ward committees were abolished and schools put under expert, nonpolitical control would the schools be able to accomplish the herculean task of turning southeastern European children into students who had the mentalities of Anglo-Saxons,” 28.
 “Fourteenth Census of the United States: State Compendium Colorado,” 32.
 Oriana Bandiera et al., “Nation-Building Through Compulsory Schooling During the Age of Mass Migration,” The Economic Journal 129, no. 617 (2019), 1.
 Arthur Brooks Baker, “Bring America to Aliens, George Norlin’s Slogan for Big Work in Colorado,” The Denver Post, May 9, 1918.
 Cecilia Elizabeth O’Leary, To Die For: The Paradox of American Patriotism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018), 176-177.
 Mirel, Patriotic Pluralism, 57.
 Mirel, Patriotic Pluralism, 56.
 Denver Public Schools Directory: School District Number One in the City and County of Denver, Colorado (Denver: Denver School of Trades, 1915-1916), 59-60, and Denver Public Schools Directory: School District Number One in the City and County of Denver, Colorado, (Denver: Denver School of Trades, 1919-1920), 83-85. From the Denver Public Library Western History and Genealogy Collection.
 Fitzgerald, America Revised, 19.
 Denver Public Schools Directory: School District Number One in the City and County of Denver, Colorado, 1919-1920, 86.
 Roscoe Lewis Ashley, The New Civics: A Textbook for Secondary Schools (New York: Macmillan, 1917).
 Angela G. Herstrom, “Colorado Annual Superintendent Report – Denver County,” 1931-1932. Colorado State Archives. Box Number Location: 1B stegosaurus_D12-b2 Box Number: 12738. The Government/Civics book that was used in the 1931-1932 academic year was Frank Abbot Magruder, American Government with a Consideration of the Problems of Democracy, (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1923).
 Joseph Moreau, Schoolbook Nation, 23 and Fitzgerald, America Revised, 59.
 For more on how the eugenics movement influenced immigration policy in the early twentieth century see Desmond S. King, Making Americans: Immigration, Race, and the Origins of the Diverse Democracy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 200) and Ngai, “The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law,” 67-92.
 Muzzey, An American History, 97.
 Muzzey, An American History, 39.
 Muzzey, An American History, 41.
 Muzzey, An American History, 349.
 Muzzey, An American History, 622.
 Jeffrey Mirel, Patriotic pluralism: Americanization education and European immigrants (Harvard University Press).14.
 Muzzey, An American History, 623.
 Ashley, The New Civics, 48.
 Ashley, The New Civics, 49.
 Ashley, The New Civics, 53.
 Muzzey, An American History, 488.
 Muzzey, An American History, 485-6.
 Muzzey, An American History, 480-1.
 Ashley, The New Civics, 49.
 Ashley, The New Civics, 109.
 Ashley, The New Civics, 109.
 Muzzey, American History, 611.
 Muzzey, American History, 587.
 “Origins of the Federal Naturalization Service,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Accessed April 21, 2020, https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/our-history/overview-of-agency-history/origins-of-the-federal-naturalization-service.
 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Naturalization to the Secretary of Labor, 68 and 74.
 George Looms, “Native Born Taught Americanization in Schools like Aliens,” The Denver Times, November 28, 1924. University of Denver Special Collections and Archives, Archie Threlkeld Papers Box 1.
 Course of Study: Americanization (Denver: Denver Public Schools, 1926), 48. Denver Public Library Western History and Genealogy Collection.
 Looms, “Native Born Taught Americanization in Schools like Aliens”
 Course of Study, 48.
 Course of Study, 49.
 The Opportunity School: Free Instruction for People of All Ages (Denver: Denver Public Schools, 1926), 12. History Colorado Manuscript Collection, Emily Griffith Opportunity School Collection, File Folder 52
 Course of Study, 56.
 Raymond Fowler Crist, Students Textbook: A Standard Instruction for Use in the Public Schools of the United States for the Preparation of the Candidate for the Responsibilities of Citizenship, (Washington, D.C: United States Bureau of Naturalization, 1921), 33. https://archive.org/details/studentstextbook00unit/page/22/mode/2up?q=god.
 “The 1619 Project,” New York Times Magazine, accessed March 22, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html.
 “1776 Commission Takes Historic and Scholarly Step to Restore Understanding of the Greatness of the American Founding,” Trumpwhitehouse.gov/archives, Accessed March 22, 2021. https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/briefings-statements/1776-commission-takes-historic-scholarly-step-restore-understanding-greatness-american-founding/.
 “Map: Where Critical Race Theory is Under Attack,” Edweek, Accessed October 14, 2021, https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/map-where-critical-race-theory-is-under-attack/2021/06.
 Shannon Pettypiece, “Trump calls for ‘patriotic education,’ says anti-racism teachings are ‘child abuse,’” NBC News, September 17, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/trump-calls-patriotic-eduction-says-anti-racism-teachings-are-child-n1240372.
 Alyce McFadden, “Secretive ‘dark money’ network launches anti-critical race theory campaign,” OpenSecrets.org, https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2021/06/secretive-dark-money-network-anti-critical-race-theory/. Last Updated, June 30, 2021.
 “Toolkit: Combatting Critical Race Theory in Your Community,” Citizens for Renewing America. June 8, 2021. https://citizensrenewingamerica.com/issues/combatting-critical-race-theory-in-your-community/.
 For more information on color-blind racism see Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States (Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010), and for an investigation of the connection between the origin color-blind discourse and school integration and busing see Matthew D. Lassiter, “The Suburban Origins of “Color-Blind” Conservatism: Middle-Class Consciousness in the Charlotte Busing Crisis,” Journal of Urban History 30, no. 4 (2004): 549-582.
 Citizens for Renewing America, “Toolkit.”
 Derrick Alridge, “The Limits of Master Narratives in History Textbooks: Analysis of Representations of Martin Luther King Jr.” Teachers College Record 108, no. 4 (2006): 662-686. and Ibram X. Kendi, “The Second Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr,” The Atlantic. October 14, 2021. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/10/martin-luther-king-critical-race-theory/620367/.
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