Denzel Washington tears up his pay voucher in Glory
Head on over to the Atlantic for my most recent essay on the legacy of our Civil War’s African American soldiers and the movie, Glory. The essay brings together a couple of posts that I recently did on how I teach the movie and how I utilize the history of the pay crisis try to give students a different perspective on the significance of what these men accomplished during the war [see here and here]. You can check out all of my Atlantic essays here.
I am not going to address any legal questions surrounding this little standoff. While I do believe it was the intention of this “flagger” to confront the security guard, what he unintentionally did was give the rest of us a front row seat to many layers of irony.
One of the things that jumps out at you when you look closely at the profile of the African Americans celebrated by the Sons of Confederate Veterans as “black Confederate soldiers” is that they were all body servants. The best examples include Aaron Perry, Weary Clyburn, and Silas Chandler.
They “followed” their masters to war
Identified closely with the Confederate cause
Rescued their master on the battlefield (dead or wounded) and brought body home
Were awarded pensions for their “service”
Remained life long friends with their former owners
I’ve suggested before that this narrative owes its popularity to its close connection to the mythology surrounding the loyal slave that took hold even before the war. What is interesting, however, is that body servants were not representative of how the Confederacy utilized slave labor during the war. In fact, we know that the number of slaves brought into the army with their masters as servants dropped by the middle of the war for a number of reasons.
No surprise that the recent post on Aaron Perry has led to a spirited discussion. I expressed concern that the ceremony that took place yesterday to honor this man would not do justice to his true status as a slave nor that the marker placed by the SCV would indicate this crucial piece of history. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from one reader who attended the ceremony that Perry’s slave status was mentioned more than once. [Of course, I prefer to read the addresses for myself.] And what about the marker that will inform visitors to the grave?
1840 – Mar. 14, 1930
Served In The Confederate Army
37TH NC Regt.
1861 – 1865
So let me ask: Do you think the average visitor will walk away with the impression that Perry was a soldier or a slave? And the lies continue.
While we are at it, what would you include on the marker to properly identify Perry? Keep in mind, the more letters, the more costly.
Thanks to Tom Vincent for passing this one along. I would love to know from those of you familiar with comic books/graphic novels if there are other examples of the loyal slave narrative. [A more recent example can be found here.] It would also be nice to know a bit about the author of this particular issue. The publication date places the black Confederate narrative a bit earlier than my recent post on the influence of the television series, Roots. From the Wikipedia entry for Gunhawks:
The Gunhawks were Kid Cassidy and Reno Jones. As introduced in Gunhawks #1 (1972), Cassidy was the son of a plantation-owning family in the antebellum American South, and Jones was an African-American slave of the family who was friends with Cassidy. They fought together for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War, with Jones fighting the Union because their soldiers had kidnapped his lover, Rachel Brown. After the war, they became wandering gunfighters, the Gunhawks, and continued searching for Rachel.
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"Levin is both superb scholar and public historian, showing us a piece of the real war that does now get into the books, as well as into site interpretation.” –David W. Blight, Yale University