Category Archives: Slavery

Please Accept Our Statue

0_61_statue_320The Sons of Confederate Veterans is still trying to find a home for their statue of Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber.  The statue, which cost $100,000, was originally planned for the grounds at Tredegar in Richmond next to the statue of Lincoln and his son Tad.  The American Civil War Museum accepted the statue, but made no promises as to whether it would be displayed and how.  Apparently, the SCV doesn’t know the first thing about how museums operate.  Now they are offering the statue to the state of Mississippi.  Good luck boys, but in this political climate my guess is that you don’t have a chance.  My offer still stands to use it in my classroom as an interpretive piece to help my students better understand the continued influence of the Lost Cause.  What do you say? We will take very good care of it.

Between the statue, their big ass Confederate flags flying over Southern highways, and their endorsement of a NASCAR driver, the SCV has demonstrated their commitment to wasting money and their inability to take Southern heritage seriously.

“Looking for Lincoln”

abraham-lincoln-statueI am pleased to see that the new PBS documentary, “Looking for Lincoln” is available for viewing on their website.  I’m not sure if this is the complete broadcast, but enough is included to give you a sense of the scope as well as content.  The program is divided into relatively small sections, which makes them ideal for classroom use.  My Civil War Memory class is getting ready to shift to Lincoln and memory so this video will be extremely helpful.  I was very impressed with the documentary.  Henry Louis Gates does a good job of sifting through Lincoln mythology in order to come to terms with a complex and sometimes contradictory man.  Gates utilizes Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Blight, Harold Holzer, Allen Guelzo, Drew Faust, and Louis Horton to sketch out salient themes in Lincoln’s life.  From there Gates explores the ways in which Lincoln continues to be remembered in our popular culture and political sphere.

A few moments stand out.  I was quite impressed with Gates’s interview with Lerone Bennett who is best known for his critical interpretatio of Lincoln on race and emancipation.  I’ve read some of Bennett’s writing and while I appreciate his much-needed corrective to understanding Lincoln’s racial outlook, he often picks and chooses evidence to help make his broader case surrounding his understanding of the Emancipation Proclamation.  As a way to challenge the mythology surrounding Lincoln and race, Bennett noted that for thirty years prior to the Civil War white Americans had defiantly spoken out against the institution of slavery.  His point was to question why they are not remembered as opposed to the excessive myth-making that has defined popular perception of Lincoln.  I think he makes an excellent point and it is one that I often wonder about.

Another moment that stands out is a short interview with a very wealthy Lincoln collector by the name of Louise Taper.  Viewers will see that her collection is quite impressive and includes a number of very personal items that Taper believes defines a loving relationship.  I only point this out because we are so often told by male historians that their marriage was an unhappy one or that Lincoln never truly got over his first love, Ann Rutledge.  Not too long ago I touched on this in a post about an article that I had my Lincoln class read by Jean H. Baker.

Finally, Gates visits with members of the North Carolina SCV duirng their annual convention.  At some point it gets tiring having to listen to the extreme vitriol that emanates from these people in reference to Lincoln.  They betray very little understanding of the past when they couch their analysis in terms of “tyrant” “dictator”, etc.  It’s all so boring and uninformative.  Interestingly enough, he is there during the ceremony to honor Weary Clyburn for his “service” to the Confederacy as a black Confederate – an event I covered in detail on this blog.  Gates doesn’t ask the obvious questions when confronted with the historical assumptions that are implied in the ceremony, which is unfortunate.  It’s not surprising given that his goal is not to be critical but to catalog the way various groups go about commemorating and remembering.  Gates simply admits that he never knew that blacks fought for the Confederacy.  My guess is that Gates must have had his suspicions given his professional training and understanding of the history of race and slavery.  After interviewing some members of the Clyburn family Gates concluded by saying: “They simply wanted to admire their ancestor’s courage.”  I couldn’t agree more.

All in all this is a first-rate documentary that should appeal to a wide general audience.  The website includes schedules for your local PBS affiliate so check it out.

North Carolina SCV Honors Black Confederates or Confederate Slaves?

ffusctre[Hat-Tip to Marc Ferguson (Nicholson is second from left)]

Mark was kind enough to tip me to an upcoming ceremony planned in Boardman, North Carolina to honor two supposedly black Confederates [History.com Message Board].  Apparently, this is the way the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 794, “The Columbus County Volunteers” honors black history month.  The two men to be honored are Sandy Oliver and Joshua Nichols.  No information is given about these men so it is impossible to say anything about their status during the war or the units they supposedly “served” in.

There is a great deal of misinformation included in the announcement, which is circulating on a number of message boards.  Let’s start with the keynote speaker.  According to the message boards Marvin Nicholson is a retired black educator from South Carolina and has been reenacting for about 13 years.  Actually, he is from New Jersey.  The uninformed would assume that Mr. Nicholson reenacts black Confederates.  I did a quick search which took me to the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources where Nicholson recently took part in a program on African Americans in the Civil War.  What the message boards do not point out is that Nicholson reenacts Union soldiers and focuses mainly on free black North Carolinians who eventually ended up in Union ranks.   There is no indication that he has researched or knows anything about the complexity surrounding the presence of African Americans in Confederate ranks.  In fact, Nicholson admits that when he retired from the New Jersey public schools he knew nothing about the role of African Americans in the Civil War.  We can only hope that he was not a history teacher.

Another thing that makes me suspicious is the way the author of the message board entry cites Nicholson’s suggestions for further reading.  The list of books was taken from the NCDCR website, which I referenced above.  As you will notice the references have nothing to do with anything related to black Confederates.  As to the books referenced, they include John Hope Franklin’s The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860 (UNC Press) and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.  Franklin’s book is must reading for those of you interested in the history of African Americans in antebellum North Carolina, and it may help to better understand their situation at the outset of the war, but it does not address directly their eventual involvement in the war itself.  I’m not even going to touch the Zinn issue.

If the author of the original message board post is a member of the local SCV chapter than we are in for a real treat as we get closer to the weekend.  No doubt, we will see increased attention from the local press as well as other forms of window dressing.  It’s been a few months since the Weary Clyburn fiasco so I guess it was about time.  I will keep you posted.

Update: A preliminary search by a reader with access to the North Carolina archive reveals that neither man received a pension.  I am told that Boardman County is on the border with South Carolina so the two may have served in units in that state.

H.K. Edgerton Goes to Washington

get_imageI guess I should have anticipated a decision by H.K. to use the Obama election/inauguration to unify white and black American around the Confederate flag.  My local newspaper is reporting that H.K. is making his way up Rt. 29, which will take him right through Charlottesville, Virginia to Washington, D.C.  I can’t tell where along the highway he is, but if I find out I am going to make an attempt to meet him in person.  No doubt, he is freezing his ass off, but that is a small price to pay when the goal is to highlight the loyalty that African Americans demonstrated as Confederate soldiers throughout the war.  Some choice quotes from the article:

I’m an African-American and I’m a Southerner and I believe my heritage, which is represented by the flag bearing the Christian Cross of St. Andrew, is being ignored and destroyed. It’s continuing to divide the black folks and the white folks who have a lot in common.

Mr. Obama said he is about unity and bringing this nation together. If he is truly a man of unity, I hope he will consider showing the Southerner that [the Southerner] is an important part of this country.  He could have a Confederate color guard at the White House,” he said. “He could give the Confederate flag a respected place as part of the history and heritage of this country.

It does not represent slavery, although slavery was a fact of life. The flag represents a heritage, a way of life that my forebears had. It represents the men and the families that lived together and fought together to preserve their country from invasion.  My family volunteered for the Confederacy and fought side-by-side with white Southerners and Indian Southerners. They are all my family.

I am Southerner. This flag is not about slavery, it’s about family and God and country. I have more in common with fellow Southerners like George Wallace than I do with [the Rev.] Al Sharpton. I’m from the South. I’m of the South and my family is Southern, be they white, red, black or yellow. We share a heritage and a way of life.

I’ve commented extensively on the issue of black Confederates/Confederate slaves so I will refrain from belaboring the point.  However, it is worth reflecting a bit on Edgerton’s emphasis on the Confederate experience as somehow constituting a point of unity between black and white Americans.  It’s not simply a reflection of poor history, but also of the Confederacy’s overwhelming place in Southern/American memory.  Of course this is no surprise given its importance to the region and the nation, but it clearly overshadows in a way which minimizes other significant moments in the history of the South that had the potential to bridge the racial divide.  Consider the Populist Movement led by Tom Watson, not to mention the Civil Rights Movement itself.

It’s unfortunate that H.K.’s embrace of American history is ultimately a gross distortion of it.  Fortunately, it wouldn’t take much to correct it once he arrives in D.C.  I recommend that he approach the reenactors in the 54th Massachusetts and request to march in the inaugural parade as part of a legitimate historically-based unit.  You want to honor black Southerners who sacrificed everything for their families and nation (even at a time when the Dred Scott ruling was still on the books) than don that blue uniform and acknowledge the heroism of your fellow black Southerners (1).

(1) Of course,  I am aware that the 54th was made up primarily of free blacks from the North, but you get my point.