Black Family Reclaims History From Sons of Confederate Veterans
This is an encouraging story. Over the past twenty years the Sons of Confederate Veterans has distorted the stories of African Americans who worked as impressed slaves for the military and camp servants who served their masters during the war. In 1998 they placed a Cross of Honor on the grave of Silas Chandler in West Point, Mississippi. A couple of years ago the SCV honored Weary Clyburn with full military honors as well as a headstone in North Carolina. These ceremonies typically include SCV members dressed in Confederate uniform and white women in mourning attire. Speeches attest to the bravery of these men and their unflinching service to the Confederacy. At the center of many of these ceremonies are the descendants of the honored.
The descendants play a crucial role in the distortion machine that is the Sons of Confederate Veterans. They lend legitimacy to an organization that hopes to stay relevant even as our collective memory of the war comes to accept the central role that slavery played in the coming- and outcome of the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the SCV has sought to utilize stories of so-called black Confederate soldiers to advance its preferred narrative of the war. The presence of the descendants of these men adds an additional layer of legitimacy to these stories.
In 2002 the SCV welcomed former slave Creed Holland into its ranks of honored black men. Included in the service were a couple of his descendants, who went on to join the SCV and United Daughters of the Confederacy. The story as reported in 2002 revealed that no one involved had any solid understanding of the relevant history. The report indicated more than once that Holland was a slave, but the SCV insisted that he was a soldier and the critical question of the meaning of his ‘service’ was left open to interpretation. At the time the SCV was up front about the significance of the event:
”Obviously we’d like to have more black or minority members because the fact that we have minorities and welcome them deflects some of the criticism we seem to get, primarily because of the battle flag,” said Ben C. Sewell III, who heads the 30,000-member organization.
What we know is that Holland was one of thousands of impressed slaves. He did not serve the Confederacy as a soldier.
William Holland doesn’t feel that the Sons of Confederate Veterans are willing to acknowledge the role that slavery played in the Civil War, or give black members of the group an opportunity to share their heritage. He wants the Sons of Confederate Veterans to “tell people the truth.” Holland said he’s frustrated when SCV members say that the Civil War was about states’ rights. States’ rights and slavery went hand in hand, Holland said. He wishes they’d tell the truth, acknowledge what happened and apologize.
Looking back, William Holland thinks the 2002 ceremony was a public relations opportunity for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy. “They were happy to get African-American members in their group,” he said. “They were just using it as a publicity stunt.”
Mr. Holland is absolutely right. This has never been anything more than a publicity relations campaign wrapped around bad history. Let’s hope this continues. As I have suggested in reference to other former slaves, Creed Holland didn’t serve the Confederacy, he survived it.