I am currently researching and outlining chapter 4 of my book on Confederate camp slaves and the myth of the black Confederate soldier. The focus is on pensions that were issued to former camp slaves. This was originally to be included in another chapter, but for a number of reasons I decided to give it a separate chapter.
One of the questions that I am trying to answer is why they were issued at all. Pensions for soldiers is easily explained, but why would former Confederate states award pensions to former slaves? Some of you might think that the answer is obvious. Pensions issued to former slaves supports the myth of the Lost Cause and its emphasis on loyal slaves and a Confederate home front and army that united whites and blacks. Others might suggest that pensions signaled to the black population the kind of behavior that was expected in the period following Reconstruction and during a time of racial unrest.
All of this is true, but it leaves at least one important question unanswered. Why did the majority of former Confederate states wait until the 1920s to accept applications from former camp slaves? 1 1. Virginia's pension system for former slaves was much broader than the other states. It accepted applications from African Americans "who served as body servant of a soldier in service, cook, hostler, teamster, Confederate guard, or who buried the Confederate dead, worked on breastworks, in railroad shops, blacksmith shops, in Confederate hospitals, under direction of the Confederate Government." × Confederate veterans reunions certainly had something to do with the timing. In fact, the push to include former camp slaves can be found in the pages of Confederate Veteran. Only Mississippi included former slaves in its pension program from the beginning in 1888. Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina all waited until the 1920s.
As much as I rely on the presence of former camp slaves at reunions and their reinforcement of Lost Cause themes to explain their pensions, I am left wondering about what was going on in the 1920s specifically that might help to explain the expansion of the programs in these states. Did the service of black soldiers in the U.S. army during WWI have an impact? What specifically did these states hope to achieve in the 1920s with these programs and for a relatively small group of men now in their twilight years?
Perhaps there isn’t anything more to explain beyond the Lost Cause and the continuing efforts to maintain stable race relations. Any thoughts?