Donald Trump, Silas Chandler, and the Fear of Black Political Action

I always knew that I wanted to use the famous photograph of Andrew and Silas Chandler for the cover art on Searching for Black Confederates. The design team did a wonderful job of complimenting one of my central interpretive goals of trying to untangle former camp slaves like Silas from the web of the Lost Cause.

Silas sits next to Andrew, but he is featured in his own right while Andrew hovers behind the book’s title. So much of the story that I tell in this book is about how the history and memory of these men has been appropriated for various purposes. During the war and for decades to follow the narrative was loyalty to master and the Confederacy. Nothing else mattered to Confederate veterans and white southerners generally.

In more recent years the black Confederate narrative has been embraced to gloss over the history of racial injustice in this country. If slavery was benign and if African Americans remained loyal to their masters and the cause, so the story goes, than recent calls to address racial discrimination have no merit.

Yesterday The Washington Post published a teaser from the book that focuses on the presence of former camp slaves at Confederate veterans reunions. They were there to reinforce Jim Crow society and justify white rule by the beginning of the twentieth century. Their participation was predicated on knowing their place in society, supporting the Democratic Party and denouncing the Republican Party and its brief experiment in Reconstruction.

African Americans who challenged the South’s racial status quo at this time were seen as troublemakers and often faced violent repercussions, including lynching.

Controlling the past has always served as a means of dictating accepted behavior in the present. Extolling the loyalty of former camp slaves during the Jim Crow-era helped to reinforce various control mechanisms to limit black political action and public engagement. In short, it reinforced what it meant to be a full citizen in this country.

It is hard not to hear the echoes of this past in our president’s recent insistence that four colored congresswomen “go back” to their countries of origin for speaking out against government policy. To unpack this vicious tweet storm is to uncover the long history of white supremacy and its attempt to control people of color.

This is about control. Donald Trump is stoking the fears of white Americans who in 2019 still expect people of color to know their place in society.

About the author: Thank you for taking the time to read this post. What next? Scroll down and join the discussion in the comments section. Looking for more Civil War content? You can follow me on Twitter. Check out my forthcoming book, Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, which is the first book-length analysis of the black Confederate myth ever published. Pre-order your copy today.

13 comments… add one
  • Anthony Powell Jul 18, 2019 @ 16:11

    The war to prevent Southern independence was a war of conquest and nothing else, black Confederate soldiers notwithstanding.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 19, 2019 @ 1:47

      “The war to prevent Southern independence was a war of conquest and nothing else…,” four million enslaved people notwithstanding.

    • Ace-of-Stars Jul 19, 2019 @ 8:06

      Anthony: “The war to prevent Southern independence was a war to suppress a treasonous fracturing of the United States and nothing else, Article I Section 8 Clause 15, all of Article I Section 10, and Article II Section 2 Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution notwithstanding. — (Why do you hate America?)

  • Ace-of-Stars Jul 18, 2019 @ 22:53

    The “Conservative” political element in these United States have always played this version of “The Race Card” with the Amercian People — whether they were calling themselves “Democrats” during the “Civil War” era or “Republicans” during the “Civil Rights” era, and always regardless of the fact that their “Base” supporters were largely allowing themselves to be emotionally manipulated to hold and espouse these views as part of a Divide-and-Conquer tactic that allowed those “Common Folk” who supported & praised such ideas to excuse and endure many of the same abuses being heaped upon their backs by the very people in Power who continually established policy only to further THEIR OWN personal and business interests! Over a century and a half of the same nonsense, and they STILL haven’t learned that they’re all just being played for fools and used as tools. (“MAGA,” indeed. We all know what it means… even if we desperately want to feign ignorance and/or operate in denial.)

  • Tim Russo Jul 27, 2019 @ 4:59

    It’s long past time race be removed from discussion of the Civil War, and the cost of labor returned to it. Slavery was, and remains, nothing more nor less than unpaid involuntary labor. It is astonishing how lost this central fact has become in the history of the Civil War. Your 2016 post about the atrophy among Civil War Roundtables is apt here – have you been to a single “roundtable” meeting of Civil War “buffs” in your life where the central goal of the Confederacy being to keep the cost of labor at zero was ever discussed? Not me.

    Civil War history keeps returning to haunt us because this organizing principle of the entire matter has been buried, the earth salted over it, and a bunch of old men dance around on top of it pretending they’re all “historically accurate” and whatnot. Trump is merely using that to his advantage – any topic at all other than the cost of labor is useful when a fascist rises to use blame to gain power. Another central fact of history buried. The Confederacy was a fascist corporate state built on the profit of unpaid forced labor, thus an inspiration to the Third Reich itself, itself the only regime in all human history to surpass the Confederacy in cruel historic infamy. The “both sides” folly of Civil War memory is just the Lost Cause undead, walking onward, barely breathing, but certainly alive. It’s repugnant.

    America won the Civil War. Not “the North” or “the Union”, the United States of America. Period. At some point, another generation of Americans will awaken and find the Civil War for what it actually was, and only then will the study of it be energized again. A calcifying group of brain dead zombies pretending history is something it clearly was not will necessarily be ignored by younger generations and anyone in the broader populace with two active synapses to rub together.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 27, 2019 @ 5:19

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, but I stopped reading here: “Slavery was, and remains, nothing more nor less than unpaid involuntary labor.”

      • Tim Russo Jul 27, 2019 @ 5:29

        How about you tell me what else it is then.

        • Kevin Levin Jul 27, 2019 @ 7:05

          How about start with any scholarly study of slavery published in the past 40 years. Try anything by Ira Berlin for starters and get back to me.

        • Ace-of-Stars Aug 1, 2019 @ 9:49

          Tim… I’m sure you mean well in your attempt to boil the catalyst that fomented the War of Southern Treason down to a single common denominator (e.g. forced unpaid labor), but NOBODY that I’m aware of disputes that basic understanding: in fact, the very concept is imbued in the very singular word which describes such an institution — “SLAVERY.”

          But what you’re failing to grasp, or appreciate, is the also-fact that “RACIAL POLITICS” was the MAIN driving force behind that policy of forcefully compelling other human beings to labor without any form of paid compensation or anticipation of future emancipation. This was the reason why AFRICANS– and in several instances, AMERICANS (i.e. the “Indiginous” populations) –and NOT other “Europeans” were the chosen targets to be considered and treated as “chattel,” because such “Non-White” populations were to be thought of as sub-human (or even “non-human” in many cases) who were to be perpetually relegated to an underclass not deserving of even the most basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, often due to gross misinterpretations of their supposedly revered Holy Book, the Judeo-Christian Bible.

          And despite what modern “Lost Cause” revisionists attempt to force down our throats to the contrary with their claim about the “White Slaves” of Irish descent (who were in actuality “Indentured Servants”… something the average African Slave could only ever FANTASIZE about being), “Racial Politics” was ALWAYS at the heart of the Slavery question throughout the European Imperialist world of the 18th-19th centuries, and it is CRIMINALLY DISHONEST to downplay this fact or attempt to altogether ignore & “move past” it.

          Even modern contemporary Jews who never even experienced the Holocaust or its effects, personally or indirectly, will proclaim in the loudest voices they can collectively muster: “NEVER AGAIN!” Yet you would encourage Americans to just sweep the horrors of our own history under the rug and pretend as if it didn’t happen? Not very “American” of you, I’d say.

    • Msb Jul 29, 2019 @ 11:32

      In 1860, the approximately 4 million enslaved people in the US represented the largest single asset in the US economy. These people were not bought, sold or used (including murder, torture and rape) for zero cost. The problem was that their labor and its fruits were stolen from them, and they were human beings treated like things by other human beings.

  • Mike Furlan Jul 28, 2019 @ 18:51

    “Slavery was, and remains, nothing more nor less than unpaid involuntary labor.”

    Also try, Slavery and Social Death, Orlando Paterson,

    http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674986909

    “Patterson rejects the legalistic Roman concept that places the “slave as property” at the core of the system. Rather, he emphasizes the centrality of sociological, symbolic, and ideological factors interwoven within the slavery system. Along the whole continuum of slavery, the cultural milieu is stressed, as well as political and psychological elements.”

  • Billy Wetherington Aug 10, 2019 @ 7:48

    One of the main, if not the main, factors in the economic, cultural and social backwardness of the South was racist based slavery. Choosing to invest in slaves (a sort of “blue chip” stock) rather than in railroads, roads, schools, and other amenities of a modern society helped keep the poor whites down as well as the slaves.

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