While I am much more interested in how many t-shirts H.K. Edgerton sold, I would remiss if I didn’t note for the record that the City Council of Lexington voted last night to maintain the ordinance preventing the display of the Confederate flag on city street poles. The Sons of Confederate Veterans have made a big deal about this, but the issue was never whether the flag could be displayed in parades and other venues. In fact, the ordinance doesn’t change much of anything in terms of the visibility of the flag.
Today the city council in Lexington, Virginia will vote on a controversial ordinance that would ban display of Confederate flags on Main Street. As many of you know, Lexington is the burial place of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee and the home of the Virginia Military Institute. The city is steeped in Confederate history. The local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is staging a parade to encourage the city to strike down the ordinance. To help out they are bringing in some heavy guns, including everyone’s favorite black Confederate, H.K. Edgerton. Edgerton started out early this morning outside of Lexington on a roughly ten mile hike in uniform and waving his Confederate flag. I’m sure he created quite a spectacle and I have no doubt that his address in front of the city council later tonight will cause quite a stir.
I had a great time in Cambridge earlier today where I took in a talk by John Stauffer on the subject of black Confederates. The talk was held at the Harvard Faculty Club, which was quite impressive. They served a really nice lunch before the talk and the room was packed with about seventy people. This is clearly an important subject, even at Harvard. I was pleased to hear Stauffer mention my blog as well as some commentary by Brooks Simpson at the very beginning of the talk.
Imagine my surprise today when I opened my email to find a notification from YouTube that my video screencast/critique of Ann DeWitt’s Black Confederate website had been removed owing to copyright infringements. The copyright infringement was instigated by Ms. DeWitt herself:
We have disabled the following material as a result of a third-party notification from Ann DeWitt claiming that this material is infringing:
Examining Black Confederate Websites: #2
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You may remember that I recently uploaded two screencasts in which I critiqued some of the more popular black Confederate websites. I’ve noticed that Ms. DeWitt’s postings at the Southern Heritage Preservation page are no longer public. No doubt, her recent discovery of a regiment of black Confederate cooks led to this decision. For someone who claims to have built an educational site she certainly has little patience with formal critiques that point out shortcomings and outright distortions in her own “research.” Is this how an educator responds? Not to worry as I still plan on using her website as part of my teacher workshop presentations on digital media literacy.
Now who is trying to suppress open discussion?
“Black Confederates” is one of the most controversial ideas of the Civil War era and American memory more generally. Today, neo-Confederates claim that thousands of blacks loyally fought as soldiers for the South and that hundreds of thousands more served the Confederacy as laborers. These claims have become a staple among Southern heritage groups and are taught in some Southern schools. Their function is to purge the Confederacy from its association with slavery and redeem the white South from guilt over its past. In this they have been partly successful: according to a recent poll, 70% of white Southerners continue to believe that the Confederacy was motivated by states rights rather than slavery.
Academic historians, in reaction to these claims, have totally dismissed the idea that more than a handful of African Americans could have served as Confederate soldiers. To suggest otherwise, they say, is to engage in “a pattern of distortion, deception, and deceit” in the use of evidence.
But according to African Americans themselves, writing during the war, thousands of blacks did fight as soldiers for the South. In my presentation, I assess and contextualize the sources, examine case studies of blacks fighting for the Confederacy, and explain how and why it happened and how Northern black leaders understood this phenomenon. Along the way I reveal the richly diverse ways in which blacks acted on their understandings of freedom.
It goes without saying that I am looking forward to attending this event and you can expect a full report here at Civil War Memory. Still, I am not quite sure what to expect. I don’t want to put too much stock in an abstract, but who might Stauffer be referring to beyond Frederick Douglass’s widely quoted claim of blacks fighting in the Confederate army? And what does this fact about African American perceptions during the war have to do with recent assessments by academic historians as to the veracity of some of the more outlandish claims emanating from certain camps? We have seen plenty of cases of “distortion, deception, and deceit” – not to mention incompetence. Stay tuned.