Update: Perhaps “Endorse” is too strong a word for the post’s title, but despite tough questions from two historians on the commission this Lost Cause nonsense was given a level of legitimacy that it does not deserve. We wouldn’t feature debunked scientific theories in such a setting, so why do we tolerate it in history?
Last night North Carolina’s Committee on Confederate Monuments and Memorials held a meeting in Durham to discuss the ongoing controversy. As many of you know last year a Confederate statue in Durham was toppled over and severely damaged beyond repair. I am a big fan of these public meetings as they give residents the opportunity to share their opinions and perspectives, but last night’s gathering was deeply disappointing.
For whatever reason the committee chose to invite Teresa Roane to address the committee and the audience as an expert on the history of the Civil War, the Confederacy, and the Jim Crow-era. Roane is a former archivist at the Museum of the Confederacy, but I have come to know her as one of the more vocal African American supporters of neo-Confederate history. Listen to the first few minutes and you will understand.
Her presentation comes right out of the neo-Confederate play book. More specifically, Roane has promoted the false claim that African Americans fought as soldiers in the Confederate army. Jump to the 18:30 mark in the video and you will hear her discuss the “men of color who served in the Confederate military” as well as those who attended Confederate veterans reunions.
Roane was unable to offer a reasonable response to any of the questions posed by committee members following her presentation.
What I don’t understand is why Roane was brought in as an expert. Committee members have access to some of the top scholars in the country on these challenging topics from nearby Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State, UNC-Greensboro, to name just a few. Is someone who spends a good deal of time posting on neo-Confederate social media pages really the best they can do?
This is another reminder of why it is so important for scholars and others to make themselves available for just these kinds of public outreach opportunities. Matthew Gabriele recently shared these tips for fellow scholars to consider when responding to media and other requests as experts.
Perhaps the committee simply wanted to feature a wide range of interpretations from a racially and ethically diverse set of speakers. Regardless of the reason, the city of Durham essentially endorsed a discredited and highly misleading narrative of American history by allowing Roane to speak as an expert. Let’s hope they don’t make the same mistake again.