The Ultimate Failure of the Black Confederate Narrative

Many of you out there will be happy to hear that I am in the home stretch of my book on the Confederate camp slave and the myth of the black Confederate soldier. I am working feverishly on completing the final two chapters. The manuscript will be sent off to the University of North Carolina Press at the end of September.

I have certainly regretted not completing this project sooner, but today I came to the realization that the delay may have allowed me to make a much stronger conclusion  about the relative success or failure of the myth of the black Confederate soldier.

Before the summer of 2015 my conclusions would have been based on the overall focus of the Civil War sesquicentennial, which certainly did not bode well for the Confederate heritage community and black Confederates. But in 2017 amidst the continued debate about Confederate battle flags and monuments it is crystal clear to me that, in terms of its initial purpose, the black Confederate narrative has been a decisive failure.

The initial call within the Sons of Confederate Veterans for members to locate stories of loyal black soldiers, following the success of the television series Roots in 1977, was part of a much broader concern about the place of Confederate iconography in public spaces. The warning signs were already clear to members of the SCV leadership.

I’ve been reading Confederate Veteran magazine from the late 1980s and early 1990s, along with SCV newsletters that go back to the early 1980s, and they were already responding to calls to remove flags and monuments.

You may be able to find stories of loyal black soldiers on thousands of websites today and the narrative may have penetrated into museums, textbooks, and other professional institutions at different points over the past few decades, but ultimately it proved to be unsuccessful in responding to the kinds of concerns expressed by the SCV.

The monuments and flags have come down and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

No number of mythical black Confederate soldiers will ever be able to return them to their places of glory.

7 comments… add one
  • Joshism Aug 11, 2017

    “You may be able to find stories of loyal black soldiers on thousands of websites today and the narrative may have penetrated into museums, textbooks, and other professional institutions at different points over the past few decades, but ultimately it proved to be unsuccessful in responding to the kinds of concerns expressed by the SCV.”

    IMO that the myth is alive and well as ever mean whether or not the SCV succeeded in their original goal of using Black Confederates as a bulwark against CBF or monument removal is irrelevant. Thanks in no small part to the internet, the Black Confederate Myth perpetuates. It is a plague, a cancer of the mind, that will remain dangerous. The Flat Earthers are more widespread in the 21st century than they ever were in the 20th so why should we sleep soundly thinking that the Black Confederate Myth has been defeated?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 12, 2017

      There is misinformation on the Internet about everything under the sun. I didn’t suggest that we should not continue to challenge the spread of misinformation, but that the purpose for which the narrative was originally intended has largely failed.

      • Joshism Aug 12, 2017

        I believe the events in Charlottesville during the last 36 hours underscore my point. The goal posts may have moved, but the game is still quite alive.

      • Kristoffer Aug 13, 2017

        I don’t hold such a cavalier attitude towards misinformation on the Internet. I can’t do that, considering my historical interest in Holocaust denial. The Internet has been a major sustaining force for it, and YouTube and Twitter are practically mouthpieces for Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial has taken serious blows from the defection of Eric Hunt, Amazon purging a lot of their books, and arguably symbolically from the deaths of Bradley Smith and Ernst Zündel. But even this won’t be enough. Deniers are still posting Hunt’s videos as if he never defected at all. And they are still posting misinformation that was debunked long ago.

        We still need to be ready to combat disinformation.

  • Rod Barr Aug 19, 2017

    An adolescent level of Civil War history on this site! A lot of charges of myth making while the plank in Mr. Levin’s own eye must be obscuring his ability for objective research. That happens when agenda takes priority over history. Delving into my own State’s archive reveals a vastly different narrative regarding free men of color in the Confederate Army. Which by the way was authorized by the State as early as 1861. Perhaps he overlooked Tennessee records in his zeal to publish his own myth.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 19, 2017

      Fascinating argument. I am going to completely re-think my research project. LOL

    • woodrowfan Aug 19, 2017

      so, let’s see the proof.

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