The Other Side of Stone Mountain

Just finished a brief exchange with a public historian that I highly respect. He sent me a brief note regarding a recent story that appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the ongoing controversy at Stone Mountain. The reporter contacted me to comment on claims made about the existence of black Confederate soldiers that are being made by heritage organizations to counter a planned exhibit on black Union soldiers.

I responded that it is always just a bit nerve racking talking to reporters about a subject like this because it is so widely misunderstood. You run the risk of being misquoted, taken out of context or placed in a story that has no business being published at all. Thankfully, that didn’t happen in this case, but my colleague offered the following in response:

Thankfully this reporter didn’t feel compelled to give those propagandist [SCV and other heritage groups] a voice in this matter. I keep telling reporters that sometimes there just isn’t another side—stories about the Holocaust don’t need the commentary of a Holocaust denier, nor do stories about the Civil War need rants from a slavery-was-the-cause denier.

I couldn’t agree more. There is nothing wrong with reporting divergent views surrounding a controversy, but there also needs to be some understanding that not all views are equal. The SCV’s understanding of the relationship between slavery and the Confederacy is on par with Holocaust denials. Their understanding of this important subject does not come close to anything resembling what is professionally accepted as reasonable.

This is a salient fact that deserves to be reported in these stories, if for no other reason than for the sake of their readers.

9 comments… add one
  • David T. Dixon Nov 30, 2015

    Strong stuff, Kevin. Had not heard that analogy made before.Most people have seen the horrible images of the extermination camps, but far few in the general public have read the primary source documents from Southern leaders that make the “slavery as the cause of the Civil War” argument so compelling to scholars and professional historians. Decades of Lost Cause myth-making that has burned alternate explanations into the minds of generations of schoolchildren North and South. That may take a long time and perhaps a few more generations to overcome; yet the pace of recent change on so many issues is encouraging. Keep up the good fight.Thanks for the post.

    • Kevin Dally Nov 30, 2015

      The analogy is a good one, you spoke well, actually I think the reporter did too! Ya called it right.

  • Sherree Dec 1, 2015

    That is a good article. Suggs is an excellent reporter. He did his homework.

    I am still reading Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction in America, and will be for some time, since it is over 700 pages long. It is interesting to see what Du Bois actually said, rather than rely upon what others have said that he said. The history of the Black Union soldier is very complex, and will not lend itself to a simple narrative.

    The history of the Black Confederate “soldier”? Besides the fact that there were no Black Confederates, Lee’s eleventh hour embracing of the idea of arming slaves as soldiers and promising freedom at the end of the war seems to offer proof that the North, in fact, could not have won the war without enlisting African American men, since the commander of the opposing army was, paradoxically, forced to recognize that his side could not win the war either without enlisting black men, in sharp contradistinction to his government’s stated reason for fighting the war: ensuring the continued enslavement of those very same men.

    All of this is fascinating history. I hope that we let it be told. If it can be told at Stone Mountain; it can be told anywhere. Maybe the time has finally arrived. We shall see.

    Yes, denying that slavery was the cause of the Civil War is analogous to Holocaust denial. But it is also much more complex than that, as historians know, and know well, but that the general public does not.

    I agree with you, Kevin, and with the quoted public historian: there is no obligation to address a totally discredited account of history, and there is even a disservice done to history in doing so.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2015

      Hi Sherree,

      Glad to hear that you are enjoying _Black Reconstruction_. There is nothing else like it given the time at which it was published.

      You make an excellent point about the significance of the recruitment of black soldiers during the Civil War. Both the United States and the Confederacy recruited black soldiers out of necessity, they just did so at different times and to different degrees of efficiency.

      • Sherree Dec 1, 2015

        Thanks, Kevin.

        Black Reconstruction is a classic. It is also highly accessible. I am enjoying it. I am also enjoying your blog. Thanks for the effort that goes into it.

  • Bob Beatty Dec 1, 2015

    I always think of the same thing when I talk to the press for the exact same reasons you mention here. So glad they got your quotes correct. And your unequivocal stance is refreshing to see in print (or online in my case…)

    • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2015

      Hi Bob,

      In the end, if we don’t talk to the press than they will rely on the most irresponsible individuals and organizations for the story.

  • TF Smith Dec 1, 2015

    Well done. The reporter did a good job but your quotes made it easy.

  • woodrowfan Dec 2, 2015

    I’m glad the reporter was able to avoid the “is the Earth round? opinions differ” faux balance that so many stories get.

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