A Black Confederate Bonanza

It looks like the local chapters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy in Pulaski, Tennessee have struck a gold mine of black Confederates.  How many, you ask?  Well, would you believe that 18 were discovered in one cemetery.  This weekend they are planning a fundraising event in preparation for a marker dedication on November 8 at Maplewood Cemetery.  As for the research that determined the status of these men we must turn to the educational forums at Dixie Outfitters.  Scroll down for the letter by UDC Chapter President, Cathy Wood (though she claims not to be working on this project as a member of the UDC) for the following:

I found where there were 11 Black Confederate soldiers from Giles County that applied for a pension. I also found 5 that died before the pension was in place or just didn’t apply. Since then I have found 2 more that didn’t apply, making a total so far 18. I went to the archives and got the application for pension for the 11. Then I filled out the form for the markers and faxed them in. I faxed these late one afternoon and by 8:30 the next morning a lady from Nashville VA called and said that these men were NOT soldiers they were slaves. Well tell me how could they receive a pension? Now are you going to stand there and let someone shoot at you and not defend yourself or someome near you? I don’t think so. These men were defending their country and other soldiers. [my emphasis]

Don’t you just love Ms. Wood’s rhetorical questions?  Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that successful pension applications did not imply status as a soldier in the ranks.

Ms. Wood concludes her letter with the following: “In my opinion VA is discriminating against the Black Confederate soldier. I know that there are Black Union markers in Maplewood Cemetery here in Pulaski.”  The reason that Ms. Wood can know that there are black Union soldiers buried in the cemetery is because black Americans did serve as soldiers in the United States Army.

Stay tuned for updates.  Perhaps Earl Ijames will give the keynote address and the women will show up in traditional mourning dress.

Teaching History Without the Negative Stuff

As many of you know the state of Texas in the process of redefining its social studies/history standards.  [See here and here]  This will impact the rest of the nation since the textbooks that will be ordered to meet the agenda of this curriculum will likely be distributed throughout much of the rest of the country.  The ongoing debate about what to teach has little to do with understanding the past or training students to think critically about historical studies.  Rather, the debate is being driven by political hacks who know next to nothing about what it means to study the past.  Consider the following short video.

It’s hard to take seriously the notion that what should drive our study of the American past is the overarching assumption of its “exceptionalism” and “how unique it is”.  According to this Texas Board of Education member, the solution is to simply delete those aspects of our history that detract from this exceptional image.  It’s certainly one way of going about it, but than what are we to make of her call to get rid of the word “propaganda” from the curriculum/textbooks?  What else should we call this approach to history?

I don’t mind admitting that I am an enemy of the notion of ‘American Exceptionalism.’  It’s not simply that I fail to see how it applies to American history, but that it has nothing to do with my role as an instructor of history.  I’ve said before that I do not consider it my responsibility to influence students in how they judge the collective moral status of the United States through its history and current policies.  In addition to the concept of exceptionalism I also steer clear of any notion of America as “God’s Chosen People” or the notion of an inherent “Evil Imperial Empire” that is espoused by some on the extreme Left.  That said, I do deal with the historical roots of the idea of American Exceptionalism going back to the Puritans’ notion of a “City Upon a Hill” through Manifest Destiny as well as its later manifestation in the form of the “White Man’s Burden.”

Can someone please tell me what is gained by teaching American history this way?  How does it help our students to engage with the rest of the world on a level of cooperation and mutual respect?  All I see is a curriculum that promotes arrogance along with the biases of a cultural exclusivist.

Are You Sure You Are Waving the Right Flag?

29303976It seems strange to me that those marching and protesting in the name of limited government and states rights would choose a Confederate flag as one of their symbols.  We have Libertarian-leaning economists such as Thomas DiLorenzo and Walter Williams who celebrate the Confederacy and its leaders as the last bastion of limited federal power in the face of the Lincoln administration, which turned the nation toward “big government” with all of its inherent evils attached.  For these guys, it’s the beginning of the end.  [It's also one of the best examples of stepping out of your field of study and looking silly.]  For most people who take part in political rallies such as the one this past weekend the flag represents the last stand of limited government, respect for individual and state rights and perhaps even a final gasp before the evils of modernity took hold.

Such overly simplistic distinctions may work well to reinforce our tendency to view the Civil War and much of the rest of our past as battle between good and evil.  On the other hand, it makes for some really bad history.  No one who understands the history of antebellum America could possibly make the mistake of drawing such sharp distinctions given the fact that it was the Southern states who were pushing for the power of the federal government during the 1850s to protect the institution of slavery through legislative acts such as the Fugitive Slave Act and court cases such as the famous Dred Scott decision. Northern states, on the other hand, insisted at times that states had the right to resist the Fugitive Slave Act by passing Personal Liberty Laws which effectively nullified the power of the federal government in their respective communities.

So, is the record of the Confederacy one of limited government and respect for individual rights?  The record includes:

  • Conscription (before the United States)
  • Tax-In-Kind
  • Tariff (higher than the 10 to 15 percent rate proposed by Hamilton in his Report on Manufacturers (1791)
  • Confederate National Investment in Railroads (amounting to 2.5 million in loans, $150,000 advanced, and 1.12 million appropriated)
  • Confederate Quartermasters leveled price controls on private mills and were later authorized to impress whatever supplies they needed.
  • Government ownership of key industries
  • Government regulation of commerce
  • Suspension of habeus corpus (According to historian, Mark Neely, 4,108 civilians were held by military authorities)

John Majewski describes this government as “Confederate war socialism”.

Joe Wilson Comes From a Long Line of Crazies

Ever since South Carolina’s Rep. Joe Wilson insulted the president and his office during Wednesday’s Health Care speech, the newspapers can’t get enough of his connection with the Sons of Confederate Veterans as well as his outspoken support for the public display of the Confederate flag and “Confederate honor.”  Today’s NYT’s column by Maureen Dowd takes this news thread to drive home an essentially reductionist connection between Wilson’s nutty little outburst, his personal past, and the broader history of his home state of South Carolina:

The congressman, we learned, belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol and denounced as a “smear” the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the ’48 segregationist candidate for president. [Therefore] Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber.

Others have tried to situate Wilson into a broader historical narrative that includes the likes of John Calhoun, Preston Brooks, and South Carolina’s own place in the story of secession, Civil War, and Massive Resistance.  These narrative memes are so predictable, but ultimately tell us next to nothing about what motivated Joe Wilson’s outburst.  Oh…I get it.  Because Calhoun, Brooks, and Thurmond are so easily lumped together in some vague reactionary category we might as well throw good old Wilson in there.  Dowd and others draw much too close of a connection between between Wilson’s past and the broader history of the state that he represents.  It’s almost silly that it even has to be pointed out.  SCV members are not necessarily card carrying racists; in fact, I read plenty of news reports of members who voted for Obama back in November.  It also doesn’t follow that those who identify with the Confederate past by flying a flag on private property are engaged in racial commentary or attempting to role back the clock to the Jim Crow Era.  How much do you think Dowd and others know about the SCV to be able to imply such a connection?  Please don’t get me wrong, this is not meant in any way as a public statement of support for the SCV or a signal that a Confederate flag is going up on my front porch.  I’ve made my position clear on both the SCV and the flag on this blog.

I get the sense that the many reports that have implied such connections present Americans with another opportunity to play with our Civil War memory.