Yesterday I gave a talk on the myth of the black Confederate solider at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was my first visit and I highly recommend that you do as well. Thanks to Wayne Motts for the invitation to speak and for taking the time to take me and my wife on a personal tour of the collection. I got to handle some incredible objects, including William Quantrill’s revolver. We had a great crowd for the talk and they asked some excellent questions.
While walking through the exhibit I came across an image of African American men in attendance at a U.C.V. reunion in Tampa in 1927. There is nothing unusual about this image, though unfortunately, the museum labeled it, “Reunion of African-American veterans of the Confederate Army, 1927.” I took a quick pic of it and put it out of my mind until Wayne showed me the original image. At first we didn’t see it it but then someone noticed that at least one of the ribbons clearly states “Ex-Slave.”
While many people still believe that images of black men at reunions (often in uniform) offers proof of their wartime status as soldiers, a little digging usually points to their former roles as camp servants. Descriptions of these men as “uncle” and “boy” or their position in photographs relative to the veterans offers some indication of their role and status at these events.
This is the first time, however, that I have seen such a label. It raises a number of questions as to why they were used and who authorized it. I am also going to have to look more closely at other images to gauge the frequency of their use. I apologize for the quality of this image. Wayne is going to send along a much better copy and I will try to gather more information about it. Always nice to find something that is likely to make it into the book.
Thanks once again to Wayne Motts for being such a gracious host and to everyone who came out for my talk.