“There Were NO Racial Problems in the South”

This is part of my ongoing research on the origins and evolution of the myth of the black Confederate soldier. It can be incredibly draining having to read these posts day in an day out. And yes, I have no doubt that these people believe every word of what they share on these sites.

  • I don’t know if former camp slaves attended every Confederate reunion, but few whites were surprised to see them and they were almost always welcomed.
  • The vast majority of these men were former camp slaves. There may have been a few free blacks who hired themselves out to Confederates.
  • There are plenty of accounts of camp slaves who deserted, and, yes, there are also accounts of slaves who were present with the army until the very end.
  • They certainly did return the bodies of their masters home and a few did return to war alongside others.
  • Camp slaves did risk their lives in various ways.
  • They were awarded pensions after the war by former Confederate states.

There is a certain truth to all of this, but if you don’t analyze the evidence in the context of the master-slave relationship and the Confederate army’s shifting policies regarding free and enslaved blacks, than all you have is mush.

And then you have the comments.

If I ever write another book its subject will need to be as far removed from this one as possible. At times this project is just downright depressing.

32 thoughts on ““There Were NO Racial Problems in the South”

  1. Douglas Egerton

    There were indeed antebellum lynch mobs. They were called courts, such as the ones that executed Gabriel and twenty-six of his followers in 1800, and the one that hanged Denmark Vesey and thirty-four of his men I’m 1822. In fact, in a pioneering essay on Vesey, Archibald Grimke characterized the Charleston court as an example of “Judge Lynch.” But as to your larger question of how to respond to such people, the only thing we can do is to continue to research and publish and hope that our evidence sinks in with some readers.

    Reply
    1. MSB

      Antebellum lynch mobs were also called “slave patrols”.

      As Virginia Woolf once wrote about reading misogynist books, one needs to be protected by asbestos gloves and bars of gold (IIRC).

      Thanks for doing this dirty job, Kevin.

      Reply
  2. Allen Edelstein

    We now have a term to explain much of this behavior. It’s called Stockholm Syndrome. Add to this that most slaves were born into servitude and knew nothing else their whole lives. Where would they go if they defected. Most in that kind of circumstance have no idea of any other life.

    Reply
  3. Christopher Shelley

    I never thought about it before reading this, but I wonder if “deserted” is the most correct term to use for camp slaves who fled their masters in the army. Desert does imply service in the armed forces. If a slave is a slave, wouldn’t “escaped” or “runaway” a more accurate term?

    Reply
      1. Forester

        So you’re saying they didn’t dessert because they weren’t soldiers in the first place? I never thought of that.

        There could have been 1,000 runaways, but since they weren’t soldiers, there were 0 deserters. Nice little word game there.

        Reply
  4. washingtonsenators01

    The most disturbing comment for me is “Lincoln’s Illegal War”. In what world would you not expect some form of a response to armed rebellion against the duly established government? In some places we would call armed resistance “treason” and those participating in such a rebellion would be hanged. To the best of my knowledge, the Constitution did not / does not prohibit a state or states leaving the Union, but it does not specifically outline a process for doing so either. The right to secede is not directly addressed. Maybe it could have been negotiated, maybe not, we’ll never know. To call it an “illegal war” is just “ludicrous”. Therein lies a big part of the problem. Denial is not just a river in Egypt

    Reply
    1. James Simcoe

      So true! As if it wouldn’t have presented a huge problem to have British war vessels patrolling the Chesapeake Bay to protect the Empire’s ‘interests’ in their ally ‘The Confederacy.’ It was just the only sea lane the capitol and Philadelphia had to the Atlantic. Of course the British were so very civilized in how they leveraged hegemony over the globe.

      Reply
  5. Margaret D. Blough

    As for pre-Civil War mobs, lynch and otherwise, there is also David Grimsted, “American Mobbing, 1828-1861: Toward Civil War (United States) (2003) that deals with the similarity and differences between Northern and Southern mobs.

    As for this alleged antebellum racial harmony, I think everyone, white and black, affected directly by the Nat Turner rebellion would have begged to differ. There’s also the whole issue of runaway slaves, especially the refusal of northern states to return runaway slaves and to stifle abolitionist groups. As the South Carolina Declaration of Secession stated, “We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”

    Reply
  6. Forester

    I think they’re trying to say that the conditions of Reconstruction exacerbated racial problems? The sudden breaking down of a racial hierarchy caused a severe backlash. I would agree with the notion that the Civil War made racial problems a hell of a lot worse.

    But NO racial problems? That guy’s a special kind of stupid. I can’t even.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Isn’t the extreme of “racial problems” the institution of slavery itself? You know…one person legally owning another because of their race?

      Reply
      1. Forester

        Wow, I feel silly now. I guess I was using “racial problems” as a synonym for lynching, assuming that the 1890s-1930s were the “Nadir of American Race Relations” like my textbooks said. My understanding was that social terrorism and public murder were a result of blacks competing with whites in the postwar job market (and threatening white social control, which had been upended by emancipation).

        I thought the social divide before the war was paradigm of “slave vs. free” rather than specifically “black vs. white”. Couldn’t a free black man could own slaves, and thus become an agent of the oppression? Under Jim Crow he was just black and could be hung for simply making eye contact with a white man in the street.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          I see your point, but are we really going to debate whether American slavery during the antebellum period was defined along racial lines?

          Reply
        2. MSB

          Your textbooks lied if they said that. The nadir of race relations was when whites could legally murder, maim, rape and rob African Americans of the fruits of their labor, not to mention breaking up their marriages and selling their children, because they (the whites) could call them (the African American) “property”, instead of human beings. Not to mention the various white “masters” who enslaved and/or sold their own children, conceived through rape of slaves. (see the Grimke family, for example.) What can Jim Crow offer to top that?

          Reply
    2. Andy Hall

      “But NO racial problems? That guy’s a special kind of stupid. I can’t even.”

      These are the same people who will tell you that race issues in this country were just fine until Barack Obama became president, because he hates whitey, or something.

      Reply
  7. Forester

    I wasn’t debating. Just divulging the assumptions that led me to say something stupid.
    I forgot to think of slavery in racial terms, which was a mistake on my part. Owned. I suppose I did the same thing the Facebook guy did: make a statement online without thinking too hard. Again, owned.

    Reply
  8. bob carey

    Elvis lives.
    Bigfoot has a home in the woods next to my house.
    Hitler died in Brazil in 1995.
    The Russians didn’t hack.
    Now I have to add that Lincoln is to blame for the country’s racial problems. I have a tough time keeping up with all this new information.

    Reply
  9. London John

    I suppose that in the South before the Civil War a white man could not kill a black person with impunity if the latter was a slave and not his own, because that would be destroying the property of another, probably more powerful, white man.

    Reply
  10. Ken Noe

    Two decades ago, an elderly former southern sheriff told me there had been no racial problems in his town as long as there had been sundown curfews for blacks. I remember thinking that his definition of “racial problems” differed from mine. That’s probably true here too.

    Reply
      1. Margaret D. Blough

        Or when blacks “knew their place.” In addition, there was a fear, in addition to the Black-specific fears, even before the Civil War that if Blacks successfully defied the white adult male patriarchy then other subordinate relationships like white women and children would be unsettled.

        Reply
          1. Margaret D. Blough

            It’s not original on my part. I’d highly recommend reading the works of Ira Berlin, including “Slaves Without Masters” about free/freed blacks in the antebellum period. He distinguishes (and I forget if he cites still others’ work) between slave societies and societies with slaves. He makes it clear that there is no basis for finding the latter morally superior to or better in their treatment of the enslaved than the slave societies. In societies with slaves, slavery is acceptable but it’s not the only form of labor (even very cheap and exploited labor). While the anti-slavery movements in the US states that fell in this territory objected to slavery on moral/ethical grounds, the white society was neither as heavily dependent on slave labor nor was it as disruptive to white society to end it (particularly since most Northern states chose the gradual route) which reduced resistance. In slave societies (almost all Southern states, if not all, fell in this category), the master/slave relationship is the paradigm for all other relationships (especially husband/wife; father/children) and any questioning of that relationship threatened all other significant relationships.

            Reply
  11. Brad

    Reading some of those Facebook posts reminds me of reading Trump comments.

    With respect to the comment by WashingtonSenators01, Texas v White made unilateral secession illegal.

    Reply
  12. Margaret D. Blough

    In the first place, what you are, referring to about the North, was the Hartford Convention which occurred during the War of 1812. President Madison was prepared to use force to suppress such an effort but it never materialized. Andrew Jackson made it very clear, during the Nullification Crisis, that he would also use force to suppress an effort to secede. Madison also made it very clear, in letters made public during the Nullification Crisis, that the Constitution did NOT include a unilateral right of secession for a state.

    Also, please get your dates straight. Abraham Lincoln did NOT, even indirectly, arrest Jefferson Davis. Davis was not captured until May 10, 1865. By that point, Abraham Lincoln had been dead at the hands of an assassin for nearly a month. As for why Davis wasn’t tried, that hardly proves anything. It strikes me as surreal that there are complaints that the official reaction to the rebellion after it ended wasn’t harsher. Would the healing of the nation proceeded better if Davis had been tried and, potentially, convicted and executed for treason or if the same had been done, or lesser punishments, to leaders of the rebellion, including US military officers who joined the rebellion? In his Second Inaugural, Lincoln had indicated that he favored a conciliatory approach.

    Reply
    1. woodrowfan

      well, the softer approach did not really work. Maybe hanging the CSA’s leaders and dividing the land of slave-owners up among their former slaves would have sent a message.

      Reply
      1. Margaret D. Blough

        As a methodology of responding to rebellion, that method has had a dismal track record unless the rebellious segment of the population (not just the leaders) are either wiped out or exiled. Neither, so far as I can tell, was ever on the table as a response by the US government. There never was and never would be a simple, easy solution. That includes the reaction of the vanquished which was to do their utmost to restore their image of what was lost, losing only the auction block and the ability to use the enslaved as collateral. Those former Confederates who advocated accepting what happened, including the citizenship of Blacks, were killed or ostracized even though they certainly wanted Whites to remain in control (as the Boston Brahmins and the New York City elites learned, once you let those you despise in the political system even at the basement level, they’ll work their way up). One can only guess at the enormity of the human and financial contribution that was squandered on Jim Crow and fighting its end, as well as the contribution that Southern Blacks could have made but weren’t allowed to.

        Reply

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