The Influence of “Roots” on the Black Confederate Myth

Quick Thought: I think what this shows is that the black Confederate myth is a response to a shift in popular culture rather than a response to developments in scholarship. That should not be a surprise. After all, proponents of this myth don’t read scholarly books; rather, they talk to one another on Facebook pages about “revisionism,” “political correctness,” etc.

I’ve suggested that the catalyst for the most recent incarnation of the black Confederate myth can be traced to the 1989 release of the movie, “Glory.”  Well, it looks like I may need to push that back a bit by roughly 12 years.  It should not come as a surprise that highly successful television series, “Roots” pushed some in the Sons of Confederate Veterans to make a conscious effort to correct what they perceived to be a distorted view of Southern history as well as the Confederate war effort.

Thanks to Asa Hines Gordon for publishing this material Online.  I’ve met Asa at a few conferences.  He is a passionate spokesman for the history and memory of black Union soldiers.  Of course, I need to confirm the sources, but consider the following excerpts from the Reports of the Adjutant-in-Chief of the SCV:

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The Reviews Are In

Talking With a Group of Students on Monument Avenue in Richmond

Thanks to Garry Adelman and Nicole Osier of the Civil War Trust for sending along reviews of my two presentations, which I gave at their annual Teacher Institute in Nashville two weeks ago.  I assume they took out the negative reviews so as not to upset me.  All kidding aside, I couldn’t be more pleased with the feedback.  I gave two presentations.  The first was a tutorial on digital media literacy in the classroom – specifically the need to teach our students how to access and assess online information.  I used a couple of black Confederate websites as a case study.  Here are a few reviews.

“Excellent presentation.  I have been waiting for a session like this.”

“As a new teacher, I am still grasping how to teach using the internet.  This was very helpful!”

“Can’t wait to share this talk with my fellow teachers.”

“I have never had any formal training on evaluating sites – this was so helpful.”

My second talk focused on how to use the movie, “Glory” in the classroom.  I focused specifically on the kinds of questions that can be raised in class that asks students to think critically about the intersection of Hollywood and history.  Here is what the participants had to say.

“Fascinating presentation – will take a lot of this into my classroom.  Well done!”

“Kevin Levin was a good presenter who responded wonderfully to participant questions and comments.  This workshop will certainly impact how I use Glory and other movies in my classroom.”

“Entertaining and thought-provoking.  Let’s have more like this good give and take between presenter and attendees.”

“Absolutely stellar session.  We need more of this type of session!!”

This is one of my favorite talks to give.  I am currently working on an essay on Civil War movies for an upcoming issue of the OAH’s Magazine of History, which is being edited by Carol Sheriff.

Please let me know if I can help with your teacher workshop or any other event that involves k-12 history educators.  Sharing with my fellow teachers is the most important work that I do professionally.  Click here for a list of upcoming talks.

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The Limits of Reunion and Reconciliation in Massachusetts

One of the things that I hope my forthcoming book on the battle of the Crater and historical memory does is find a place in a growing literature that challenges the reunion and reconciliation school of Civil War Memory.  It’s beautifully expressed by David Blight in Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memoryand suggests that white northerners and southerners eventually brushed aside a memory of emancipation for one that embraced a shared history as well as a set of values that allowed for a swift and relatively painless sectional reconciliation.  There is a certain amount of truth to this story.  The story of the Crater, however, simply does not follow this broad narrative outline.  The veterans of the Virginia brigade engaged in bitter feuds relating to the battle and the role of William Mahone during the few short years of Readjuster control.  Mahone learned that there were limits to which he could utilize his military career to advance a political agenda that advanced the cause of the state’s black population.  And while numerous meetings between former enemies took place on the battlefield, white southerners never adopted a language of reconciliation when commemorating the battle.  This was a decisive Confederate victory that highlighted the fighting prowess and character of their own.  The presence of a black division was simply too much for many of the veterans to forget even at the beginning of the twentieth century.

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“Confederate Slaves” at Bull Run

Kate Masur has an excellent post up at the NYTs Disunion blog on slaves, who were present with the Confederate army at Bull Run.

On the morning of Sunday, July 21, 1861, John Parker and three other men opened fire on Union forces. In the chaos of the Civil War’s first major battle, the group, which was operating a cannon, “couldn’t see the Yankees at all and only fired at random.”

Like so many men on both sides who experienced war for the first time that day, Parker was terrified. “The balls from the Yankee guns fell thick all around,” he later told a reporter. “In one battery a shell burst and killed 20, the rest ran. Thank the Lord! none were killed in our battery. I felt bad all the time, and thought every minute my time would come; I felt so excited that I hardly knew what I was about, and felt worse than dead.”

Read the rest of the NYTs essay here.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the comments section to turn into another forum for the standard emotional attacks and personal pleas that have nothing to do with actual history.

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“Thank God the North Won”


There is an interesting moment in this talk by Peter Carmichael where he fields a question by a woman, who is apparently concerned that he is being overly critical of the South and the Confederacy.  Unfortunately, it’s difficult to hear the question.  I know a little something about being accused of holding the Confederacy and all things Southern in contempt.  It’s a strange accusation that I will never truly understand.

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