There is something profoundly disturbing about the concerted effort on the part of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to distort the past so as to assuage their deepest insecurities. A quick perusal of their websites and the uninformed are left believing that the Confederacy was anti-slavery and that free blacks and slaves were some of their most loyal citizens. Of course, such a view is possible only in an interpretive world that is isolated from the rest of American history and absent of any serious historical analysis. Such is the case when it comes to their obsession with black Confederates.
Today one of my readers passed on a story out of North Carolina. This Friday the James M. Miller Camp, 2116 will hold a ceremony to honor Weary Clyburn who is buried in Monroe. A number of his descendants will be in attendance and a headstone will be dedicated. Here is just one announcement for the event:
On Friday July 18th, 2008, Weary Clyburn will be honored at the General Convention of the SCV at 11:50 am and then at 3:30 pm a headstone will be dedicated to him in Monroe, NC. Weary was a loyal “Colored Confederate Soldier” who served his unit with distinction and valor. He ran away from the plantation to join his childhood friend Frank Clyburn who was an officer in the 12th SC Volunteers. He later saved saved his commanders life on two different occasions, and stories have it that Weary did service for General Lee. The ceremony will be attended by his daughter and many of his descendants. We’re asking for help from any and all SCV members and reenactors who would like to pay tribute to this man who served his country with honor. We would especially like to see a large amount of soldiers representing the “Colored Confederates” of that time. This event will be a very positive event for the SCV as we strive to honor the memories of all of our Confederate Brothers.
Here is another announcement:
How do you measure loyalty and friendship? Mr. Weary Clyburn is an example of both and more. Weary Clyburn was a childhood friend of Frank Clyburn, growing up on the Clyburn plantation, hunting and fishing together. Weary was a slave belonging to Frank’s father. That scene was not uncommon in the South as the “Gone with the Wind” plantations were far and few between, compared to the smaller working farms where smaller numbers of slaves worked along side the farmers that owned them. In many cases, the sense of community between the two was closer then the communities of modern times. When Frank joined the Confederate Army, he was sent to Columbia, SC for training. A short time later, Weary shows up in Columbia telling Captain Clyburn that he wishes to join him. He joined his friend out of a sense of loyalty and friendship. Through the years of the war, Weary served along side Frank in Co. E, 12th South Carolina Infantry. Weary was reported to have carried the wounded Frank Clyburn off the battlefield, on two different occasions saving his life. According to Ms. Mattie Clyburn Rice, a living daughter of Weary Clyburn, he also served General Robert E. Lee towards the end of the war. Like many men during the war Weary, a slave, chose to be part of the Confederate Army. Weary lived out the later parts of his life and raising a family in Union County, North Carolina and is buried in an un-marked grave in Monroe.
Please don’t be fooled by the language of honor and memory that are standard fair for these SCV-sponsored events. This is not about history in any shape or form. In fact, if you were to do even a cursory study of the level of analysis that typically accompanies these stories on the Internet you will see that these people actually have no interest in historical truth. Just take a minute and think about the language that is used in these announcements. We are to believe that the relationship between slave and slaveowner is “closer then the communities of modern times.” There is no analysis whatsoever of what it meant for Clyburn to “serve” in Confederate ranks, though we know that this was in fact illegal and contradictory to the Confederacy’s very existence. Finally, we have a slave who ran away from his owner because he “wished to join” his boyhood friend. It’s laughable.
It’s bad enough that the SCV has little respect or even understanding of what is involved in serious historical scholarship, but what makes it worse is their lack of respect for the memory of Weary Clyburn. Again, don’t be fooled they have no interest in telling his story or the lives of other so-called black Confederates. In just about every case that I’ve come across there is no account from the individual in question and yet the SCV feels justified in assuming what motivated them to “serve.” In the end all they manage to do is distort and demean their memory. To put it in strict Kantian terms, they treat historical lives as a means to their own ends.
The bigger picture is always worth remembering in these cases. I ask again that if we are to assume that large numbers of slaves and free blacks volunteered out of sense of loyalty and served in Confederate ranks than how do we explain Jim Crow? How could the Southern states have passed laws that disfranchised the largest percentage of black southerners given their loyal service to the Confederacy? Someone please explain this to me.