[Hat-Tip to Marc Ferguson (Nicholson is second from left)]
Mark was kind enough to tip me to an upcoming ceremony planned in Boardman, North Carolina to honor two supposedly black Confederates [History.com Message Board]. Apparently, this is the way the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 794, “The Columbus County Volunteers” honors black history month. The two men to be honored are Sandy Oliver and Joshua Nichols. No information is given about these men so it is impossible to say anything about their status during the war or the units they supposedly “served” in.
There is a great deal of misinformation included in the announcement, which is circulating on a number of message boards. Let’s start with the keynote speaker. According to the message boards Marvin Nicholson is a retired black educator from South Carolina and has been reenacting for about 13 years. Actually, he is from New Jersey. The uninformed would assume that Mr. Nicholson reenacts black Confederates. I did a quick search which took me to the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources where Nicholson recently took part in a program on African Americans in the Civil War. What the message boards do not point out is that Nicholson reenacts Union soldiers and focuses mainly on free black North Carolinians who eventually ended up in Union ranks. There is no indication that he has researched or knows anything about the complexity surrounding the presence of African Americans in Confederate ranks. In fact, Nicholson admits that when he retired from the New Jersey public schools he knew nothing about the role of African Americans in the Civil War. We can only hope that he was not a history teacher.
Another thing that makes me suspicious is the way the author of the message board entry cites Nicholson’s suggestions for further reading. The list of books was taken from the NCDCR website, which I referenced above. As you will notice the references have nothing to do with anything related to black Confederates. As to the books referenced, they include John Hope Franklin’s The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860 (UNC Press) and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Franklin’s book is must reading for those of you interested in the history of African Americans in antebellum North Carolina, and it may help to better understand their situation at the outset of the war, but it does not address directly their eventual involvement in the war itself. I’m not even going to touch the Zinn issue.
If the author of the original message board post is a member of the local SCV chapter than we are in for a real treat as we get closer to the weekend. No doubt, we will see increased attention from the local press as well as other forms of window dressing. It’s been a few months since the Weary Clyburn fiasco so I guess it was about time. I will keep you posted.
Update: A preliminary search by a reader with access to the North Carolina archive reveals that neither man received a pension. I am told that Boardman County is on the border with South Carolina so the two may have served in units in that state.