Edward C. Smith on Black Confederates

This is great.  In 1993 Professor Edward C. Smith addressed a Sons of Confederate Veterans meeting on the subject of black Confederates.  Unfortunately, only the first ten minutes of his presentation was posted, but it is extremely helpful.  First, Prof. Smith is a Professor of Anthropology at American University.  It is unclear to me on what grounds he can claim to be an authority on this particular subject.  As far as I can tell he has never published anything on the subject in a scholarly journal.  I suspect that he can claim as much authority as Earl Ijames.  What is interesting is the timing of the speech just a few short years after the release of Glory, which I suggested yesterday functioned as a catalyst for interest in this issue.  Well, Smith confirms my suspicions, but he also helps us to better understand why African Americans may be interested in this subject.  From what I can tell Smith views this subject as the next step in more fully understanding the place of African Americans within the broader national narrative.  Blacks served as soldiers in the Union army so it must be the case that they also served in Confederate armies.  Smith wants a more inclusive history that does justice to the accomplishments of black Americans.  That is certainly understandable.  I hope the rest of this speech is eventually posted.

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16 comments… add one

  • James F. Epperson Jun 10, 2010

    I had forgotten about this guy. (I think he is deceased, BTW.) When the subject first came up on the newsgroups in the mid-90s, he was always brought up as a “reliable/authoritative” source. I was never able to find anything he wrote on the subject.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 10, 2010

      James,

      If you click the link you will see that Smith is still listed w/ the rest of the faculty. If he did die it must have been recently. You will find his name all over the internet, but much of it is cut and pasted. As far as I can tell there are no references to anything that would count as serious research on the subject.

  • James F. Epperson Jun 10, 2010

    OK, I must be suffering from a faulty memory.

  • Margaret D. Blough Jun 10, 2010

    As an AU alumna (B.A. in International Studies, summa cum laude, School of International Service, 1972), I found Dr. Smith to be an embarrassment (I actually heard him speak once. I was scathing in my comments on the seminar evaluation form). I don’t know if he’s still alive or not. I understand his goal but you gain nothing by replacing one lie (the whitewashing of American history) with another lie. Listing accomplishments without putting them in context actually denies credit to those who managed to achieve despite every effort of the white male power structure to exclude them.

  • Marc Ferguson Jun 10, 2010

    Unfortunately, there’s no substantive content in this part of the talk. What Smith does say seems to imply that his own motivation is to demonstrative that blacks “were there.” He says something about blacks fighting for “the cause,” so I certainly would be interested in what he understands to be “the cause.” The mere fact of the presence of blacks, free or otherwise, doesn’t tell us anything about their motivations without some combination of accounts written by blacks and an analysis of the social, political, and economic context of their participation. I sure hope more of this talk is available.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 10, 2010

      The rest of it is available for purchase: http://www.bonniebluepublishing.com/

      I have no doubt that Smith references the same pieces of evidence w/o any context or attempt at serious analysis. If you look at the website it indicates that Smith referenced the famous Steiner quote, which we’ve gone over many times on this site. I don’t get the sense that this is political for Smith. He wants to place African Americans back in the picture. Read H.K. Edgerton and Walter Williams and the politics is crystal clear.

      • Marc Ferguson Jun 10, 2010

        Well, I definitely don’t have $24.95 worth of curiosity! There are a lot of other scholars placing African Americans back in the picture, and doing a much more accurate job of it. The “we were there too” impulse is the shallow end of the multicultural studies pool when it isn’t accompanied by accurate representation and critical analysis.

        • Kevin Levin Jun 10, 2010

          Marc,

          I will probably purchase the full-length video for scholarly purposes. :D Like I said, I am interested because it is from the early 1990s. I would love to know when the SCV first invited a speaker on the subject of black Confederates.

  • Marianne Davis Jun 10, 2010

    Kevin,

    Prof. Smith referred to himself as a historian when he decried the segregation of history into black, white, gay, etc. I should think that anyone listening to his remarks, or to the gentleman who introduced him, would think that Civil War American history was his field.

    Apart from the question of credentials,though, he has committed the insurmountable logical fallacy of petitio principii. He was attempting to explain the phenomenon of black confederateswithout having proven that such a phenomenon existed. If he were to have argued something like, “Had black men fought for the South, they might have done so for X, Y and Z reasons” we all should have given him a respectful hearing. Historically, Prof. Smith was on shaky ground. Logically, he was on quicksand.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 10, 2010

      Marianne,

      There wasn’t much to consider in the short clip, but it was pretty clear that Smith didn’t have much to offer.

  • Al Mackey Jun 11, 2010

    I first heard of Prof. Smith in reading Walter Williams’ column on so-called “black confederates” back in the late ’90s or early 2000s. Williams wrote of him as if he were a historian, not an anthropologist.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 12, 2010

      Hi Al,

      No surprise there considering that Williams is an economics professor and not a historian.

  • Al Mackey Jun 11, 2010

    Wow, did you notice the introduction? They “raved” about his “articulate and intelligent presentation.” I suppose they think that makes him unique among African Americans? And they identify him not only as a historian but as a “Lincoln scholar” as well. Huh???

  • EarthTone Jun 15, 2010

    In this brief excerpt, the professor doesn’t say much about Black confederates; I’d love to hear his full talk, but as mentioned above, it’s not worth $25 to me.

    What I do think is good, is that the Professor is reaching out to what one might think is a hostile audience. At the beginning there, he is keen to provide a context of the African American experience in history to the listeners, more like sharing that experience – and there’s no downside to that.

    I’m no fan of sharing false narratives of Black Confederates, but I do see this as a way for black history to be discussed with an audience that is generally thought of as being disinterested – or worse – in the subject.

    So perhaps the professor was thinking, “this is a way to bring people together.” Maybe. I’d love to see more of the tape and hear his own thoughts on the manner. But given the cost of the tape and the word that the professor has passed away, I guess I’ll never know.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 15, 2010

      ET,

      I tend to agree with you, but the problem is that the SCV isn’t interested in black history unless it fits with their assumptions concerning slavery and the broad themes of the war. They welcome Smith’s subject because it fits with the broader belief in loyal slaves and a war that had little to do with emancipation.

  • Andy Hall Mar 15, 2011

    Interesting where Smith discusses the fundamental interconnectedness of different threads of American history, ending by saying (about 8:45) how much he opposes the “ghettoization” of history, citing as examples black history, women’s history, gay history, generating loud applause from the audience.

    I really do get the sense that Smith is saying one thing — that’s not especially controversial — and the audience is hearing another thing completely.

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