One of the benefits of having to make manuscript revisions is the opportunity to add new information to enrich the narrative. This story fits into a number of places in my black Confederates book, especially in my discussion of African Americans who buy into some aspect of this myth.
African American sculptor Kevin Pullen recently chose to commemorate the relationship between camp slave Neptune Small and his master Henry King with a statue of the former carrying his wounded master off the Fredericksburg battlefield.
Here is Mr. Pullen describing their relationship and the inspiration behind his sculpture.
I’ve said this before, but there is something deeply troubling about African Americans who willingly and enthusiastically embrace the loyal slave trope. The basic outline of Pullen’s account accords with the available evidence, but to depict Small in his role as the loyal slave feeds into an insidious myth that has long been used to justify legal segregation, white supremacy, and the Lost Cause narrative of the war.
“What I tell people is it’s a love story,” insists Pullen. “Because these two grew up together. They were love buds when they were little people. The whole slavery and Civil War piece was the backdrop for their lives. They lived on the same property, and they grew up in the same place.”
Slavery was just a “backdrop for their lives.” This is pretty close to embracing the institution of slavery generally because it brought white and black people closer together. I am speechless.
Plans are underway to include this statue on a trail that will “showcase African American heritage, but also other history and culture” in Glynn County, Georgia.
Unfortunately, this story dovetails nicely with another story out of Georgia in which a black teacher decided it was a good idea to celebrate Black History Month by having her second graders wear blackface masks.