An Open Post to Keith Poulter

In a recent issue of North and South magazine (Vol. 10, No. 2) which featured an article by Bruce Levine on so-called black Confederates, editor Keith Poulter issued a challenge.  "If there is anyone out there who still believes in legions of black Confederates," writes Poulter, "I invite them to write in, spelling out their grounds for that belief, and their grounds for dismissing the statements of Confederate leaders to the contrary."  The last two issues of the magazine have included a number of letters-to-the-editor and this one in particular takes the cake.  According to this reader, "The records prove…that Georgia raised six regiments of slaves, a total of 5,000 men, designated as the First through Sixth Georgia Colored Volunteers."  A bit further into the letter the author admits that there is "not a single word of documentation of these gallant men, who resisted the War of Northern Aggression.  Yankee revisionists and p.c. historians refuse to admit that the total lack of records proves the existence of black Confederate soldiers."  Now that is a keeper for classroom use on how not to engage in historical reasoning.  With this logic we could demonstrate that every color in the rainbow was represented in Confederate ranks.  What I don’t understand is why Poulter thought it necessary to publish such a ridiculous letter.  I understand that this section of a publication is reserved for readers’ letters, but this silliness only exacerbates the problem by implicitly sanctioning such a view as worth considering. 

More troubling, however, is that in the most recent issue Poulter announced that the author of one of the letters will be contributing an essay which supposedly will demonstrate that roughly 3,870 "Afro-Confederates" from Virginia served openly in Confederate ranks.  Jack Maples will be working with his "genealogist friend" to bring this new evidence to light in the face of denials by "mainstream historians."  They are utilizing the 1850, 1860, and 1870 census reports along with pension records and muster rolls for their research.  Let’s hope they spend sufficient time defining their terms.  In other words, what they need to flesh out is the complexity of race relations before the war and how the contingency of war altered the slave-master relationship.  We need to move beyond questions of loyalty to a more sophisticated perspective that first explores the many reasons why blacks were present with Confederate armies.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe this kind of analysis is forthcoming from Maples and his co-researcher.  Maples is the author of Reconstructed Yankee which tells the story of Caleb and Tom Parker:

Civil War expert Maples tells the fictionalized tale of two North
Carolina friends, one white and one black, who fought together during
that war. Set in 1862, the story follows Caleb Parker, a free person of
color living in the Confederacy, and his best friend, Tom Parker, a
white man, as they join the Union militia and set out on their civil
war adventure. After serving for a time in the army and witnessing the
atrocities perpetrated by the Union side, the two decide to switch
allegiances and join the Confederate Army, where things quickly go from
bad to worse. After the war and Tom’s death during a particularly harsh
battle, Caleb returns to North Carolina and Reconstruction, a world
that has been made unbearable for the newly freed black populace. Caleb
then heads for upstate New York, where he is ultimately disappointed to
find the same racism problems he thought he’d left behind.

In a nutshell: North bad, South good.  If this isn’t enough you may want to take a look at Mr. Maples lecturing a crowd about the loyalty of southern blacks during the war.  What I don’t understand is if all of these black southerners were so loyal to the various southern states and Confederacy during the war than why did it take so long for black Americans to get basic civil rights in many of these places?  How did white southerners justify a system of Jim Crow in the face of such broad-based participation and devotion to the cause? Of course, northern blacks faced discrimination well into the twentieth century, but the argument – as I understand it – suggests that the balance of loyalty was in favor of the Confederacy and not the Union.  Didn’t their love and devotion to their masters and the Confederacy at least justify the right to vote and take part in our democratic system? 

Perhaps there is reason to be optimistic that the research of Mr. Maples and his co-researcher will tell us something new about this divisive topic.  My only concern demand as a loyal reader of N&S is that Keith Poulter ensure that their research meets the stringent requirements that his magazine has upheld from the beginning. 

I for one will cancel my subscription immediately if those standards are not upheld.

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Three WHITE Teens Arrested For Vandalizing Confederate Statue in Montgomery: (Is this still a hate crime?)

A few weeks ago I commented on the assumptions being made about the individual[s] responsible for painting a Confederate statue in Montgomery, Alabama in black-face.  Not surprisingly, editorials made it clear that many assumed the perpetrators must be black given the details of the defacement.  Here is what I stated in that earlier post:

On the other hand, what both statements have in common is the implicit
assumption that the perpetrators are black.  Now if I were a betting
man I probably would agree, but it is worth asking whether that
assumption tells us more about ourselves than anything about this
particular crime.  It could very well be white southerners that are
responsible for this incident, and it may also be the case that they
are making the very same point that might motivate black southerners.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans offered a reward for any tips that may lead to an arrest and apparently it paid off.  Assuming this leads to charges and a conviction I will be interested to see if anyone takes the opportunity to comment on the racial component of this incident.  I am curious as to how the Sons of Confederate Veterans, specifically, will attempt to explain the motivation of these young white men. Perhaps they can schedule H.K. Edgerton for a series of public talks and visits to local public schools.  Meanwhile, the restoration of the monument continues.

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What Do Abraham Lincoln and Stewie Have in Common?

StewieAt one point during their lives they both probably wondered whether they had been born into the wrong family.  I actually used Stewie as an example to drive home the point that Lincoln and his father had difficulty relating to one another.  I don’t mind admitting that I absolutely love Family Guy.

"Victory is Mine"

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H.K. Edgerton Marches Through Texas

Looks like our favorite black Confederate is on the move again and this time in Midland, Texas.  H.K. Edgerton is out to demonstrate the history of loyalty that slaves showed to their masters and the Confederacy.  This little passage in a recent news item caught my attention:

Edgerton, a former president for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in North Carolina, said that during his 2002 march he was able to stop along the way to talk to people.   He told them of the “black heroes” that fought alongside Confederate soldiers during the war.   His Web site states that 50,000 African-Americans served willingly and that almost four million stayed behind to care for the plantations and farms in the South out of their own free will. This information is what Edgerton wants students to be aware of; his organization Southern Heritage 411 says that their mission is to reveal the truth of those who helped to support the South in the struggle for independence.

So, we are to believe that 50,000 African Americans served in Confederate ranks and 4 million stayed behind to care for their masters.  Meanwhile , yesterday my students took the opportunity to read R. E. Lee’s 1865 letter in support of the utilization of black southerners in the ranks.  I’m sure Lee would have been surprised and pleased to hear that 50,000 were already openly serving in his and other armies (LOL).  I would love to know where the 200,000 black Union soldiers were pulled from and the thousands of fugitive slaves that flocked to the armies as they made their way through the South.  Don’t hold your breadth for an answer.

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A Great Day in Richmond

Tredegar_005We had a great time in Richmond today and I couldn’t be prouder of the way my students conducted themselves while at the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar.  A few of my students came dressed as tourists which you can see in the photos I took.  We spent about 90 minutes walking through the exhibit and discussing its key interpretive points.  They thought carefully about how Lincoln is interpreted within the overall narrative while at the same time keeping a sharp focus on the overall interpretive theme of the museum which is to tell the story of the Civil War from Union, Confederate, and African-American perspectives.  I used to think that the museum is too small, but today I realized that it is ideal for student groups; within 60 – 90 minutes you can complete the exhibit with a fairly sophisticated understanding of the war years and beyond.  What I am most pleased with is that the assignment forced my students to critique the exhibit.  Towards the end we gathered in a spot and spent a few minutes sharing observations about the overall effect of the museum.  Most of my students were positive, but a few had criticisms about the amount of attention on the Union perspective and the spike-like rods that can be pulled to reveal various statistics and other pieces of information.  I am not a big fan of these rods, but I just realized that the sound they emit is something you would have heard in a foundry which is where the exhibit is located.    Ilook forward to reading my student’s final papers which will synthesize what they observed at Tredegar with their other reading assignments. 

Tredegar_003Afterwords we walked over to the Lincoln-Tad monument where we took photographs.  In class yesterday we read a few articles about the controversy surrounding the unveiling of the monument back in 2003.  It was very difficult for me to impress upon them the emotions that were generated in the days leading up to and on the day of the unveiling.  They couldn’t understand why various heritage groups would have a problem with a Lincoln statue in Richmond and they were even less impressed with some of the more outrageous claims made by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and League of the South.  I found myself trying to make the best case possible for their view to keep the discussion going.  Finally, we headed on over to Hollywood Cemetery for a short walking tour.  We focused specifically on the sites off of Confederate Avenue and then walked to President’s Circle to see John Tyler and James Monroe.  Today was a perfect day for a field trip and also an wonderful way to top off what has been a challenging and fun semester course. 

Click here for additional photographs from the trip.

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