Update: Click here for additional information from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission’s website.
The plaques include the names names of 24 African-Americans who took part in Virginia’s constitutional convention of 1867-68 and the names of 14 black people who served terms in the state Senate between 1869 and 1890. Two additional plaques list the names of 85 African-Americans who served in the House of Delegates between 1869 and 1890. Just the kind of heritage you want to see commemorated in the Richmond area. Read the story here.
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.
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.
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.
4. Adding to the need for those who support the preservation of the chapel to reconsider the conflictive approach taken by the Virginia Flaggers is the inherent marginality of the site itself. It is a memorial. Essentially, nothing happened here.
People want to preserve battlefields because they are places where something happened. Ford’s Theater and the Lorraine Motel are filled with people pointing out where the assassins stood. People visit these places and imagine what they would have seen in 1863, or 1865 or 1968. They fire the historical imagination. What do people imagine when they go into the chapel? Men at prayer? Continue reading “Are the Virginia Flaggers A Threat To Confederate Heritage? (continued)”→