H.K. Edgerton, Neo-Confederates & the Limits of Black Political Action
It should come as no surprise that H.K. Edgerton helped to dedicate a new Confederate Memorial Park in Tampa, Florida this weekend that includes a marker honoring black Confederate soldiers. In the past I have suggested that it is best to understand Edgerton’s presence at these events as a form of entertainment, not entirely unlike the presence of former camp slaves, who attended parades and veterans reunions at the turn of the twentieth century.
Edgerton’s presence reinforces the Lost Cause view that blacks and whites both shared the goal of an independent Confederate nation.
But there is another aspect of Edgerton’s presence that has not received as much attention. As was the case in Tampa this weekend, Edgerton is routinely introduced and advertised as a former branch president of the NAACP in North Carolina. Edgerton himself reminds his public of this fact at every opportunity. To appreciate this fact keep in mind that most of the small number of African Americans embraced by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other heritage groups openly express politically conservative ideals.
The emphasis on Edgerton’s abandonment of the NAACP points to the appropriation of or need to set the terms of black political action just as white southerners did during the era of Jim Crow. It may seem obvious, but you will never see the Confederate heritage community embrace the Black Lives Matter movement or any form of black political action that challenges the worldview of conservative white Americans.
Edgerton’s presence reinforces a preferred historical narrative within the Confederate heritage community but it also helps to outline the boundaries of accepted black political action. When Edgerton walks through town in his Confederate uniform and carrying a battle flag or when he is engaged in an emotional reading of “I am Their Flag” at an SCV meeting he is signaling to his audience that he understands his place in that community just as former slaves understood their place during the postwar period when in the presence of Confederate veterans.