Black North Carolinians Plan to Erect Faithful Slave Marker

A group of historians and other concerned citizens recently lobbied the commissioners of Union County to “recogniz[e] the contributions of 10 black Confederate pensioners, known as colored troops during the Civil War.”  We’ve seen all this before and it doesn’t look like anything will steer certain folks away from making this all too common mistake regarding the conditions under which black Southerners were given pensions after the Civil War.  The assumption seems to be that a pension indicates that a given individual served as a soldier in the Confederate army.  [For some reliable commentary on pensions please read James Hollandsworth, Jr., Robert Moore, and the Library of Virginia.] The group wants to install a small monument to these ten individuals in front of the old courthouse in Monroe.

The most disappointing aspect of this story is to read the words of the descendants of these men who were forced to endure the horrors of war as property, ultimately without any choice in the matter.

Aaron Perry of Charlotte is the great-grandson of one of the pensioners, also named Aaron Perry, a Union County slave who fought with the North Carolina 37th Company D. Although the Confederate States lost, their story should be remembered.  “I think it’s a great thing,” said the younger Perry, 72. “It’s been a long time ago, so I’m not going to overlook that. What’s so bad about it? They’re honoring these 10 North Carolina soldiers for being helpful to their country, even if it was under slavery.  “They lost that war, but my great grandfather helped rebuild the camp at Fort Fisher,” Perry said. “He played his part, even though he was under slavery and somebody else’s command. When you enlist in the service, you’re taking orders from somebody.”

Notice how Mr. Perry completely collapses the distinction between status as a slave and citizen.  In what way was the Confederacy “their country” given the constitution’s provisions that specifically protect the institution of slavery?  Even worse is the failure to distinguish between having to take orders within a military command – a responsibility that under certain conditions is conferred on citizens – and status as a slave which views the individual as an extension of his master’s will.  What could be clearer?

Of course, it should come as no surprise that Earl Ijames is involved in this nonsense.  Ijames works as a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, which is part of the NC Department of Archives and History.  I guess Ijames couldn’t resist referencing Weary Clyburn, who happens to be his favorite “Colored Confederate.”  Unfortunately, Ijames isn’t even sure whether Clyburn was a slave or a free man at the time of the Civil War.

Between Perry and Ijames we get a sense of the quality of “research” and thought that seems to be behind this project.  I am sad to say that in 2010 we have two African American men, who are essentially hoping to erect a monument to faithful slaves of the Confederacy.  What could be more pathetic?

25 responses... add one

“Dont know what to make of that but it was built by the people who actually experienced the war.”

Really, you don’t know what to make of it? How about paternalism, justification, rationalization, mint and julips, Lost Cause, Jim Crow…?

Paternalism, justification, rationalization, these words mean nothing to me. I am not a historian and dont have a family tradition of slavery. I leave interpretation of these monuments to others. Never had a mint julip but it sounds good.

“I leave interpretation of these monuments to others.”

Your initial comment that you don’t know what to make of it, “but it was built by the people who actually experienced the war,” is an interpretation. You implicitly endorse the notion that if those who erected the monument fought in the war, then we must accept their version and terminology. If you really don’t know what to make of it, and you are genuinely interested in history and historical monuments, then perhaps you should become a little more curious.

“You implicitly endorse the notion that if those who erected the monument fought in the war, then we must accept their version and terminology.” Hmm, I will have to ponder that one over a cold one. Sorry, not taking the bait.

My interests are in what we think of these monuments today, thats why I come to a blog called Civil War Memory. The call to remove the Confederate Monument in Pitt county about four years ago was the first time I gave these monuments any thought. What are your thoughts on these monuments? Should they be moved, destroyed, etc.

“They should be neither moved nor destroyed. They should be understood within the context of the period when they were erected.”
I would agree with your statement but alot of people are offended by these monuments. Do they have a place in the public sphere? I predict that these monuments will be moved in my lifetime.
http://www.wral.com/news/local/video/154815/

Of all the monuments I have seen the ones in Kingstree were the most impressive to me, you have both Confederate and Civil Rights Monuments located at the courthouse.
http://www.rrphillips.com/Confederate_Memorials/web/Williamsburg_County_SC/index.htm
http://www.rrphillips.com/king/Civil_Rights/index.htm

The tricky part — and most often overlooked — is recognizing that monuments like the one at Columbia are now, after a hundred years, themselves historic objects, for better or worse, part of the landscape and the community. It’s far better, in my mind, to find a way to leave these things intact, but interpret them as artifacts that reflect their own biases and motivations, and were a product of their times — not the 1860s, but the early 1900s.

But that’s a somewhat complex point to get across and I don’t really know how you do that to the general public, that seems to spurn anything that requires a lot of readin’ an’ stuff. As a whole, we Americans don’t “do” complex very well, in our history or our politics.

On a tangential note, I seem to recall that in this period, so many monuments of this sort were going up across the South that foundries actually offered generic, bronze Confederate soldier statues by catalog. Anybody seen a link for those?

Andy, they were definitely mass-produced and not just in the South. Both in bronze and stone. I didn’t see anything online (kind of hard to search with words like “advertisement” and “catalog.” But any Confederate Veteran magazine after 1900 or so will have ads. There’s catalogs out there for sale on Ebay and such, I have one from the “Monumental Bronze Company” around here. Cooper Bros. in Raleigh and the McNeel Marble Co. out of Georgia did a bunch. I have seen a letter from a company in Richmond to a perspective buyer that touted the fact that the stone (quarried in Va. I assume) had “echoed to the tramp of Lee’s noble legions.” Just the marketing of these things is fascinating, and opens up a whole other avenue of Lost Cause…stuff. Northerners purchased and put up these mass-produced monuments too, but I think the monuments put up by the side that lost are much, much more interesting.

The nadir of monument production were the mass produced drinking fountain memorials that started showing up in the 1920′s. Of course, these featured TWO drinking fountains: one for the whites and one for the blacks.

Also, it does not quote anyone, but the Charlotte Post article claims: “It would be the first acknowledgement of black contributions to the Confederacy – or the Civil War in general – in North Carolina.” Foks have already mentioned the Tyrrell County plaque, there is also a monument to the UCST in Hertford County(?) North Carolina.

Tom,

Thanks for posting this. I really get the feel that the 1900-1910 decade was, in many ways, the “high water mark” of the Lost Cause mythos, driven in part by the realization that the actual veterans wouldn’t be around much longer, at least in significant numbers. In many ways, the surge in remembrances and commemorations is similar to those in the 1990s (and continuing) on behalf of World War II veterans. One has to wonder what historians, a century hence, will make of the broad-stroke (simplistic?) memes we now use to recognize those veterans — “Greatest Generation” and all.

Richard,

Thanks. Good catch. Obviously a case of mix-n-match monuments.

“Leesee, I’ll have the medium-sized ‘Lost Causer,’ with the ‘slouch hat Confederate’ statue, the Bobby Lee bas-relief plaque, and the ‘faithful slaves’ inscription on the back. Oh, an’ gimme a side of fried pork rinds, too.”

The Tyrrell monument is of a pressed metal made to look like stone – not sure if the Maine one is the same but could be. I had to actually rap my knuckle on the Tyrrell one to know for sure – from even a foot or so away it looks like stone.

Chris,

I believe that’s galvanized iron. It was very popular in the late 19th century for headstones — because they were cast and (relatively) inexpensive, it made it possible for folks of limited means to have much more ornate monuments than they could have afforded in actual, hand-cut stone.

They last damn near forever, too. They definitely got their money’s worth.

http://www.zincmarkers.com/

I am sure these two monuments are made out of zinc, also called white bronze (poor mans bronze). It will always have a blue look to it. I bet there is not another confederate monument in nc made out of zinc and it would have been produced up north where they have a tradition of working with this metal. Looks like this monument needs one of those civil war trails signs, got to be an interesting story regarding its construction.

Forgot to add. If you put a magnet on the monument and it sticks than its iron, if not its zinc.

August 1902 newspaper account says it is bronze – hats off to Richard for a good eye.

My folks are Tyrrell County folks. In fact, my ancestor John A. Sawyer is one of the names on that monument in downtown Columbia. Tyrrell County as a whole contains several faithful slave narratives. The one that is traditionally handed down is how a slave woman helped the clerk of court save all of Tyrrell’s original records. He removed them from the courthouse and hid them in her slave quarters. As the story goes she then boiled a large pot of water and threatened to pour it on any Yankee who happened by and thus saved the records. Another story involves a slave Mingo who brought his master food as his master hid out in the swamps to escape conscription by both armed forces (Union and Confederate).
More telling is perhaps the date the monument was erected. In NC by 1902 the white power structure was entrenched – having passed disenfranchisement laws to eliminate the black voter (by and large). They could afford the largess of dedicating so-called faithful slaves. But even that is recognition that there were unfaithful slaves.
The difference between the two events 100 years apart is that I have found no evidence that Africn Americans were involved with the Columbia monument – but I am still searching so we could call that a push!

I should add that Tyrrell had an active Confederate Veterans group dating from the late 1880s or early 1890s. Which is to say, again, the date the monument is erected is significant. Especially considering the group was formed and active more than a decade before.

Hey Richard,
Thanks, always glad to have a discussion. And to hear from you.

I have visited most of the civil war monuments in North and South Carolina. What I find interesting is not the fact that the Columbia monument mentions “faithful slave” or that the monument in Fort Mill, SC has the same sentiment. The fact that it appears so rarely is in itself a powerful statement. If there were all these faithful slaves you would think it would be expressed more often.
http://www.rrphillips.com/Confederate_Memorials/web/York_County_SC/index.htm

Kevin-I think, in a really weird way and perverse way, it’s an attempt to fight the stereotype of as the slave as passive victim. Genuine scholarly research such as John Hope Franklin & Loren Schweninger’s landmark study, “Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation” has shown the falsity of this stereotype. What’s sad is the Iames & the others sponsoring this are playing into one of the central themes of the Lost Cause’s efforts to literally whitewash the history of the Civil War and why it happened. They can’t seem to acknowledge that many enslaved men, as the Union Army marched into rebel states, grabbed the opportunity to take charge of their fate and joined the Union Army.

Isn’t “faithful slave” an oxymoron? “Slave” implies coercion.

If someone did a good deed uncoerced, surely they earned the right not be called a “slave” any more?

Fort Mill, SC also has a “faithful slave” memorial – http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=24822

It stands in a park near a Confederate memorial, a memorial to Catawba Indians who served in the war, and women who supported the war effort. Four memorials covering about all the social angles might care to mention. Were these going into place in the 1990s, we’d certainly speak about the diversity. But the memorials were placed between 1891 and 1900. Had I the time, I’d research the story of these memorials. I suspect there is an interesting “story behind the memorials” that needs to be told. All I have to offer right now is the scant details from a nearby historical marker: http://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=24820

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