White Citizens Council Meeting in New Orleans
The vast majority of black Confederate accounts on the Internet follow a well-worn narrative. First, we are somehow to believe that servants/slaves volunteered to accompany their owners to war and in doing so solidified a bond of friendship and a commitment to the achievement of Confederate independence. Many of these postwar accounts offer rich descriptions of servants who rush onto a battlefield to rescue their wounded master or secure the dead body for the long trip home. These stories were and continue to be told by whites as a way to minimize the horrors of slavery and as a vindication of the Confederate cause. African Americans almost never come out from under the shadow of white storytellers. To put it another way, African Americans remain an extension of the white storyteller’s will or as part of his chosen memory of the past. It should come as no surprise then that many of these accounts paint a picture of peaceful relations between former master and slave following the end of the war. We see this clearly in the case of Silas and Andrew Chandler. Even Andrew Chandler Battiale, who appeared on the Antiques Road Show for an appraisal of the famous tintype suggested such a relationship: “The men grew up together; they worked the fields together, and continued to live closely throughout the rest of their lives.”
What is lost in all of these accounts is any understanding of the culture of slavery and antebellum race relations as well as the challenges that African Americans faced in the South through the Jim Crow era. Were Andrew and Silas close friends after the war? To what extent did the descendants of both families remain in touch given their close proximity to one another? Well, here is the deal. I can’t say one way or another without any evidence and that is what a historian needs in order to make such a claim. Anything less is meaningless.
This is not to say that we are left without any guidance as to the relations between Andrew and Silas as well as their descendants. We have access to a rich body of scholarship that can assist us from broad interpretations of the postwar South to rich local studies. In the case of the Chandlers, however, we have access to a bit more. Consider the following State Sovereignty Commission document from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History that includes both a reference to George Chandler (son of Silas) and a descendant of Andrew Chandler by the name of Kyle Chandler, who was an insurance and member of the Citizens Council. According to historian James Cobb:
The White Citizens’ Council was formed in July 1954 in Indianola, a little north of Yazoo City in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, by a World War II veteran and plantation manager, Robert B. “Tut” Patterson, and some local businessmen and politicos. The council organizers had been inspired by a speech by Judge Tom Brady, also a Mississippian, who called on Southern whites to mount an organized resistance campaign against the Supreme Court’s integration decree. The Council spread across, and ultimately out of, Mississippi, generally attracting the white economic and political elites of the Deep South’s Black Belt counties but later making some inroads among blue-collar whites in the cities as well.
Pledged to maintain white supremacy, the councils foreswore violence but did their best to intimidate blacks who might think about challenging the status quo and to make painful examples of those who did. Perched atop the local economic pyramid, the councils’ white elites could seriously reduce, if not cut off entirely, the flow of commerce and credit, not to mention employment, to blacks who got out of line. Council leaders typically made it a point to see that the names of any black persons who had attempted to register to vote or signed petitions for school desegregation made their way to the local newspapers so that whites in the community would know which blacks to fire, turn off their tenant farms, or deny credit. An Alabama council member summed up his group’s aims quite candidly when he explained, “We intend to make it difficult, if not impossible, for a Negro who advocates desegregation to find and hold a job, get credit, or renew a mortgage.”
George Chandler is listed as “one of the Negroes they [local Citizens’ Council] thought might possibly belong to the NAACP and who might possibly be a trouble maker in the event of a racial crisis.”
I am the first one to admit that it is unclear as to what this document tells us about the relationship in West Point, Mississippi between the descendants of Andrew and Silas Chandler. What I do know is that those folks who so eagerly embrace such overly simplistic assertions of friendship and peaceful race relations will continue to ignore or even deny the importance of such documentation.