Interpreting Black Confederates at Atlanta History Center

On Friday I visited the Atlanta History Center as part of the annual meeting of the National Council for History Education. I’ve gone through their Civil War exhibit before and overall I think it is pretty good.

This time through I took a photograph of a small panel on Confederate camp slaves. Many of you have seen this image before. Apologies for the glare.

It is a very concise description of the relationship between master and slave, but overall I think it is accurate. Keep in mind that this exhibit dates to 1996. What do you think?

I also want to give a shout out to the Atlanta History Center for a wonderful first-person performance about the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906. It features an African-American newspaper boy who not only describes the event, but reflects on the stories (many distorted) that were published in the white newspapers as well as those stories that were intentionally ignored.

The performance is entertaining, informative and suitable for both children and adults. The Atlanta History Center should be commended for taking on this difficult history.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

5 comments… add one
  • In the prisons in Florida, the inmates far outnumber the staff. The part of the staff that is armed is an even smaller proportion, yet, few of the inmates revolt or even try to escape. You may not like your “involuntary servitude.” You may even think you were innocent but you continue to accept the servitude because you know nothing else. Servants who brought their masters whom when wounded may have thought they had no choice and they may also have an affection for their masters despite the inequity of slavery.

  • Ryan Trainor Apr 2, 2017 @ 14:35

    I work in a museum that deals in military history, including some civil war subject matter. I can appreciate how challenging it is to take a complex subject and boil down to a very small, interpretive panel, or in this case, photographic caption.

    What I recognize is deliberate language that appeals to more than one audience with differing perspectives, and I think they pulled it off well. Army service is a euphemism to be sure, but they also don’t cover up the experience of slavery. Brilliant.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 2, 2017 @ 18:07

      Hi Ryan,

      I think you nailed it.

      Army service is a euphemism to be sure, but they also don’t cover up the experience of slavery.

      There does exist a certain amount of tension here, but I think all in all the description captures the centrality of slavery in the relationship between the two.

  • Scott Ledridge Apr 2, 2017 @ 9:49

    “Army service” feels a little… misleading. But, that could be me. If the rest of the exhibit seems on the level, it would seem strange to make this one little nod to the black Confederates crowd. So, it’s probably me.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 2, 2017 @ 10:54

      Good point.

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