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.