When Slaves Adorned American Currency

Confederate Currency

It’s been a few months since I published anything at The Daily Beast, but Wednesday’s announcement that Harriet Tubman will soon adorn the $20 bill prompted me to briefly reflect on African Americans that once adorned Confederate currency. I enjoy writing for TDB. For one it connects me to a much broader audience, but I usually don’t have the opportunity to go into much detail on the topics covered and often the references that I consult are left out for one reason or another.

I just happened to have recently re-read parts of Ian Binnington’s recent book, Confederate Visions: Nationalism, Symbolism, and the Imagined South in the Civil War (University of Virginia Press, 2014), which includes a nice chapter on currency and its connection to nation building. It proved to be very helpful for this particular column and I wanted to make sure that I acknowledged it. Not sure how much attention this book has received, but it is definitely worth your time.

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Abbeville Institute on Black Confederate Soldiers

Many of you are familiar with the Abbeville Institute. Among other things they offer an annual conference that brings together a short list of people, who push a decidedly Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War and slavery under the guise of serious scholarship. Last year’s annual conference included a talk by Donald Livingston on the debate within the Confederacy to arm slaves, which was just uploaded to YouTube today.

The part of the talk that focuses specifically on the debate begins at around the 30 minute mark. I am not going to go through the many problems with this presentation. A thorough reading or re-reading of Bruce Levine’s, Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War, would be a great place for Livingston to start. [click to continue…]

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Former Student Petitions to Save Lee Monument

Tredegar in Richmond

Civil War Memory Class at Tredegar in Richmond (2007) – EH has his arm around Lincoln.

Last night’s meeting of the Charlottesville City Council on the future of its Confederate monuments was well worth watching in its entirety. A number of people spoke, expressing a wide range of perspectives on the history of these sites and what should, if anything, be done. One current and two former history professors from the University of Virginia spoke as did a Robert E. Lee impersonator, who suggested that a monument to Sojourner Truth ought to be erected. Yes, you heard that right.

Susan Hathaway of the Virginia Flaggers spoke and then promptly walked out of the room, demonstrating once again that this group has absolutely no interest in engaging community members. They are content on imposing their views along with threats of erecting Confederate flags in high trafficked areas if they don’t get their way. [click to continue…]

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‘Making America Confederate Again’

Right now the Virginia Flaggers are holding a rally at Charlottesville’s Lee Park in anticipation of a city council meeting tonight that will discuss the future of Confederate monuments in the city. The Flaggers will likely take the opportunity to share with city residents that the Confederate flag has nothing to do with the history of racism and white supremacy and that Robert E. Lee was an early civil rights leader.

Virginia Flaggers

Meanwhile, in Buffalo, New York you can show your support for Donald Trump with this…

TrumpIt’s all part of the same campaign.

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Silas Chandler in BuzzFeed News

chandlerscropped2

This morning BuzzFeed published an extensive and thoughtful essay about Silas Chandler and his place in the black Confederate narrative by Adam Serwer. Serwer carefully explores the available sources related to Silas’s time in the war, but he also does an excellent job of untangling the many myths that have surfaced in connection with the famous photograph of Andrew and Silas. Just as interesting are the interviews that Serwer conducted with the descendants of both Andrew and Silas and their competing understanding of the history of the relationship between these two men and, perhaps more importantly, what that relationship means in 2016.

I have been in contact with Adam for some time and shared a number of sources with him for this essay. You will see numerous links to this website and and other essays published over the past few years. This is as comprehensive an account that you will find online and it raises all kinds of important questions. For me, it is a reminder of why the black Confederate narrative deserves attention from historians and why it needs to be challenged at every turn.

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