Should Byron Thomas Join the Sons of Confederate Veterans?

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Byron Thomas made a name for himself not too long ago by hanging a Confederate flag in his dorm window at the University of South Carolina – Beaufort.  Since then he has utilized YouTube to promote his own vision of a post-racial society.  Some of it is worth watching and some of it is not.  Today Byron discusses the discovery of an ancestor, who he believes fought as a soldier in the Confederate army.

I really want to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans because Benjamin Thomas a Black Confederate just might be my ancestor and I want to honor him. Benjamin Thomas got a state pension from the state of South Carolina, so he definitely isn’t no make believe character. I really want to join, because I’ve been to some SCV meetings and I love what they stand for. They DON”T SUPPORT/STAND FOR any form of racism. They are no where near a racist group.I just want to honor my past ancestor that fought for the south, that’s all. America I want to join, but I’m not sure my family will like it, so can yall help me out!!! Kill People with Kindness and May God Bless America.

You get the sense that Byron hasn’t done much research at all on his ancestor.  The direct answer to his question is obviously, yes, he should honor his ancestor.  The only question that remains – assuming the relation is substantiated – is whether Benjamin Thomas will be honored for who and what he was during the Civil War.

My advice to Byron, assuming he is reading, is to hold off on joining the SCV.  I have no doubt that they will welcome him with open arms and with a minimum of research into his ancestor.  Their standards for membership within the black community are notoriously lax since the SCV’s understanding of African Americans and the Confederate army is fraught with problems that have been explored time and again on this site.  The first thing he should do is stop by the history department on campus and talk with Professor Stephen Wise, who is an expert on South Carolina and Civil War history.

Given that Benjamin received a pension it sounds like he was either a camp servant or impressed slave assigned to work on Confederate military infrastructure.  Pensions were given in just about every former Confederate state to former slaves and not to black soldiers [here and here]. These are not facts that are disputed by historians.

Byron’s interest in his family history is sincere.  It’s a breadth of fresh air to see someone his age so passionate about his family history.  Further research has the potential to lead to a life long love of history.  I look forward to following Byron on his journey.

11 comments… add one

  • Andy Hall Nov 15, 2012

    Benjamin Thomas’ pension application can be read here. Thomas was a cook which, role has been discussed in detail previously. As noted on the form, Thomas applied under South Carolina’s Act No. 107 of 1923, described thus:

    Act No. 63, 1923 S.C. Acts 107 allowed African Americans who had served at least six months as cooks, servants, or attendants to apply for a pension. Then in 1924, apparently because there were too many applications, the act was amended to eliminate all laborers, teamsters, and non-South Carolinians by extending eligibility only to South Carolina residents who had served the state for at least six months as “body servants or male camp cooks.”

    This was, as is typical in other Southern states, almost 40 years after South Carolina began granting pensions to widows and disabled white veterans.

    Good luck to (the current) Mr. Thomas. I hope he finds whatever it is he’s looking for.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 15, 2012

      Thanks for following up, Andy. It will be very interesting to see what the SCV does if Byron applies. :-)

      • David Sanders Jun 2, 2013

        Hello Kevin,

        It may interest you that the SCV has over 50,00 members with many being black Americans. The Sons of Union Veterans last count was about 6,600 with no black members. Just an interesting thought.

        • Kevin Levin Jun 2, 2013

          Thanks for the comment. Perhaps you can cite a source for this statistic.

        • Bob Huddleston Jun 2, 2013

          Given miscegenation in slavery times and after, there are no doubt a great many blacks who could be members of the SCV.

  • Bummer Nov 15, 2012

    Bummer hopes to follow Byron’s journey also. I would advise him to be very careful in joining any of the neo-confederate groups, to keep from being exploited. Think your last line from the June 8, 2012 post is right on. “Yes, we should honor these men. Honor them not for serving the Confederacy, but surviving it.

    Bummer

    • Andy Hall Nov 15, 2012

      I would advise him to be very careful in joining any of the neo-confederate groups, to keep from being exploited.

      Too late, Bummer. He’s already something of a viral video sensation in certain quarters, where his free-form verbal meanderings through vague tropes and noble sentiments have found a receptive audience. It’s a mutually-beneficial arrangement: he gets praise and affirmation of his beliefs, and they get another beard.

  • Rob Baker Nov 15, 2012

    I think Byron should start with researching that ancestry first. As it stands now, Byron bases his claim from the fact the he and his “ancestor’ both have the same last name, and are both from Augusta.

  • CW Farms Nov 27, 2012

    Sure, research and see if he is an ancestor. I am certain that you would be welcomed with open arms in the SCV. We have a couple of black members in our camp. They fit in well, participate, and seem to enjoy themselves just as we do. We just treat them like we do everyone else of course. There were thousands of free blacks, and slaves that did fight, and they fought side by side our white forefathers. The US wouldn’t do this until Korea.

    Good luck

    • Andy Hall Nov 28, 2012

      We have a couple of black members in our camp. They fit in well, participate, and seem to enjoy themselves just as we do. We just treat them like we do everyone else of course.

      Why, we treat ‘em just like they was people!

      • CW Farms Nov 28, 2012

        They certainly are people, and Christ died for their sins, just as He did mine and your’s. I meant that everything goes smoothly. We don’t have to be self conscious or anything. We all get along well, they are good folks.

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