Black Confederates to the Rescue… Again

I’ve been writing about this subject for much too long to be surprised by the emergence of the black Confederate narrative by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in response to last Wednesday’s shooting in Charleston. Black Confederate soldiers have been coming to the SCV’s and other Confederate heritage supporters rescue since the late 1970s, following the release of the popular mini-series, “Roots.”

This particular incident is unfortunately tailor-made for this myth. In a statement released by the South Carolina Division, SCV they maintain that neither the Confederate flag nor the history of the Confederacy has anything to do with the reasons behind Dylan Roof’s actions.

Historical fact shows there were Black Confederate soldiers. These brave men fought in the trenches beside their White brothers, all under the Confederate Battle Flag. This same Flag stands as a memorial to these soldiers on the grounds of the SC Statehouse today. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a historical honor society, does not delineate which Confederate soldier we will remember or honor. We cherish and revere the memory of all Confederate veterans. None of them, Black or White, shall be forgotten.

The historical record suggests that Confederate soldiers never acknowledged the existence of black comrades in arms during the war, though thousands of slaves performed a wide range of functions in the armies and elsewhere. They certainly didn’t acknowledge their presence while massacring black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow or the Crater and there were no signs of black soldiers while rounding up hundreds of fugitive and escaped slaves during the Gettysburg Campaign in the summer of 1863. Continue reading “Black Confederates to the Rescue… Again”

The Committee Speaks

This is the first interview that I’ve seen featuring members of Washington & Lee’s “Committee,” which last year successfully petitioned their school’s administration to take down Confederate flags in Lee Chapel and to think carefully about the school’s connection to Confederate history and slavery.

I applaud these students for their commitment to making their campus a more hospitable place for African Americans and for other students who are concerned with questions about the place of the past in the present. One of the two students interviewed closed with the following: “I know that someone is going to feel more comfortable by what we did and that is enough.”

This video is part of a larger project on how we remember and commemorate the Civil War.

Is a Public Memory of Reconstruction Possible?

The New York Times has a feature up today in which they ask a group of historians to reflect on how Reconstruction ought to be remembered. There are some interesting suggestions to consider from the importance of acknowledging “Juneteenth” to preserving historic sites on Hilton Head island to recognizing the importance of strong voting rights legislation.

What I find interesting is the way in which these individual reflections are introduced:

As Americans deal with some of the same racial issues that tore apart the nation then, how should we commemorate Reconstruction and what can be done to create a public memory of it?

What exactly does it mean to ‘create a public memory’ of Reconstruction 150 years later? More importantly, is it possible?

On the Absence of Black Soldiers in the Grand Review

The sesquicentennial anniversary of the Grand Review in Washington, D.C. has given new life to an old myth about the lack of United States Colored Troop presence. This past weekend the African American Civil War Memorial & Museum in D.C. hosted a reenactment of the two-day march that included black reenactors.

For Sarah Anderson the reenactment was meant “to correct a wrong made in 1865, when black soldiers were left out of the Grand Review, the Union Army’s victory parade.” The oversight, as her article suggests, is part of a long history of racial injustice that leads directly to Ferguson and Baltimore. Continue reading “On the Absence of Black Soldiers in the Grand Review”

When It Comes to Confederate Flags, The History is the Context

It should come as no surprise that the two stories involving high school students waving and posing next to Confederate flags have become national news. It’s also painfully clear that the parties involved have no historical understanding of how to think through some of the important issues involved, namely the history. Last night the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board met to discuss the Instagram photo of two female students waving Confederate flags on the Gettysburg battlefield. A sizable crowd turned out to share their thoughts.

I am much more interested in the Chapel Hill situation precisely because it involves a school trip to Gettysburg. One comment that continues to surface, especially from those defending the girls, is that the photograph was taken out of context. What I take this to mean is that the girls did not intend to offend anyone in their school group or anyone who happened to see it online. It is unclear as to how the students came into possession of the flags, but regardless we can assume that the organizers of the event did not intend to offend anyone by sanctioning it. The father of one of the girls has repeatedly stated that the photograph was taken out of context. Continue reading “When It Comes to Confederate Flags, The History is the Context”