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Have Black Confederates Become Too “Rainbow”?

Yesterday’s post reminded me that I never addressed a comment posed by Ken Noe from a few weeks ago in response to another story about the discovery of a supposed black Confederate. Ken wondered about the frequency of these stories in recent months.

You have me thinking, Kevin. As the heritage movement becomes more factionalized and in obvious cases radicalized, if the drift really is toward the sort of southern national cells and defenses of white exclusiveness Brooks Simpson has been chronicling of late, has the ‘black Confederate’ topic necessarily peaked? Is it becoming too “rainbow?” It occurred to me this morning that I’m running into it less often. But perhaps your experience is different.

Self-described racists in the Confederate heritage community refer to ‘Rainbow Confederates’ as those who envision an idealized Confederacy made up of blacks, whites and other ethnic groups peacefully co-existing. Black Confederate accounts minimize the story of slavery and white supremacy and attempt to situate the Confederacy within a broader narrative of racial progress. It’s a popular story for those in the Confederate heritage community who have a need to push the tough questions of race and slavery to the side.

I’ve also come across these stories less and less in recent months, but I am also at a loss to explain why. There may not be anything at all to explain, though I suspect the Virginia textbook scandal of 2010 has something to do with it. That story was picked up by local, national, and international news agencies. The frequency of stories related to United States Colored Troops has certainly emerged as the dominant racial narrative in the last year as has the broader theme of emancipation.

Any thoughts?

Why Confederate Camp Servants

The most recent issue of The Civil War Monitor contains a letter-to-the-editor about a recent essay of mine on Confederate camp servants [Spring 2013]. From Mr. John H. Whitfield:

While the article was enlightening on the issue of enslaved Africans who were wartime “body servants,” it presented a rather narrow view of the panoply of roles in which the enslaved were critical to the Rebel war effort. For instance, the impressment of slaves, authorized throughout the Confederacy in 1862, sent countless men to construct earthworks at various strategic locations.

Mr. Whitfield is absolutely spot on regarding the place of enslaved blacks in the Confederate war effort. There are a number of excellent studies that examine these various roles, including books by Glenn David Brasher,Joseph Glatthaar, and Bruce Levine. Those of you with an interest in this topic will definitely want to check out Jaime Martinez’s forthcoming book, Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South, which will be out with UNC Press in December. Continue reading “Why Confederate Camp Servants”

New To the Civil War Memory Library, 09/14

Taylor, The Internal EnemyNice to have the first full week of school behind me. I’ve got some wonderful students this year, who are respectful, funny, and incredibly curious. I am particularly enjoying my course on the Holocaust. This week we discussed whether the Nazis had achieved gleichschaltung by 1934. We also examined testimony from the Nuremberg Trials to help set the stage for our exploration of the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

It goes without saying that my personal reading time is at a minimum now, though I can always make room for a new book by Alan Taylor.

Ginette Aley and J.L. Anderson eds., Union Heartland: The Midwestern Home Front during the Civil War (Southern Illinois University Press, 2013).

Bradley S. Keefer, Conflicting Memories on the River of Death: The Chickamauga Battlefield and the Spanish-American War, 1863-1933 (Kent State University Press, 2013). Reviewing for The Journal of the Civil War Era.

Edward T. Linenthal, Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum (Columbia University Press, 1995).

Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 (Norton, 2013).

Brenda Wineapple, Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 (Harper, 2013).

Kentucky Historical Society is Hitting the Road

This video will be featured in a traveling exhibition and shown throughout the state to middle and high school students. It offers a very brief overview of slavery’s centrality to Kentucky Civil War experience. Not sure what I think of the 3d motion graphics when there is such a rich body of photographs and other period illustrations to utilize. It’s also difficult to compress such a complex story in just over three minutes. What do you think?

Welcome to Dixie Outfitters (and what it all means)

Edgerton, black confederate
Black Confederate Fashion by H.K. Edgerton

A few months ago I had a conversation with Alan Levinovitz, who teaches at James Madison University. As a new member of the community there were a number of things that struck Alan as strange and begging for explanation. At the top of the list is the local Dixie Outfitters store in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Alan asked if I could provide some context for the store’s presence and stock, especially those H.K. Edgerton t-shirts. The inquiry was in preparation for an article he was planning for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

The article is now online, which I highly recommend. A few of my comments about the myth of the black Confederate made it into the piece.

“People don’t believe in the black Confederate narrative because they’re crazy,” explains historian Kevin Levin. “They believe it because they read it. It’s on a website that looks professional, has all the bells and whistles, and includes images, primary sources of all kinds. How could it not be true?”

Levin’s long-running blog, Civil War Memory, is on the front lines in a battle between established historians and a vocal minority who insist that most academics are biased liberals bent on slandering the South. Dixie Outfitters is a part of this minority, and its company website includes a history section with over eighty links to information about black Confederates.

Read the rest of the essay here.