We all know that certain Civil War narratives die hard, none more so than the black Confederate myth. While it will continue to spread on the Web and rear its ugly head from time to time in various popular forums it will never gain legitimacy in our most respected private and public historical institutions. This fact has nothing to do with a conspiracy to conceal the facts from the general public or some vaguely defined liberal bias and everything to do with what we know about this subject.
Thanks once again to Andy Hall at Dead Confederates for once again taking the time to expose the house of cards that is the myth of the black Confederate soldier. This is another example of a website that purports to be educational, but is really nothing more than a list of names by state, most of which are clearly referenced as slaves – both body servants and impressed. There is almost no serious analysis nor is there any indication of the methodology utilized to order, catalog, and interpret the men listed. Somehow the facts are suppose to speak for themselves, whatever that means. The site is called Southern Heritage Advancement Preservation and Education (SHAPE) and is run by George Purvis. You will also find such lists on other websites along with the same shoddy or limited analysis.
It’s one of those quotes that sticks out like a sore thumb on many black Confederate websites: “When you eliminate the black Confederate soldier, you’ve eliminated the history of the South.” The only problem is that if you search for this quote Online you run into any number of problems not the least of which is authorship. Let’s take a quick tour.
- The quote was posted today at the Southern Heritage Preservation Facebook Page and attributed to Robert E. Lee in 1864. Carl Roden responded with a correction: “Actually it wasn’t Robert E. Lee who said that, it was historian, Erwin L. Jordan, Jr. who did good work on telling the story of Black Confederates and their service…its still a good quote none the less.”
- Over at the 37th Texas website the quote is attributed to Dr. Leonard Haynes, an African-American professor at Southern University.
- The Southern American of Color also attributes the quote to Professor Haynes.
- Finally, no surprise that Calvin E. Johnson also utilizes the quote over at Edgerton’s site and attributes it to Haynes.
An Online search for the quote will yield page after page of websites that apparently have cut and pasted the passage. Most of them attribute the quote to Professor Haynes. What you will not find, however, is a single reference to the source of the quote. There are no references to any publications on the subject or even a speech in which he may have made the claim. The claim of authorship seems to be based on nothing more than that has been cut and pasted countless times. If you are looking for an example of why an uneducated search on the Internet is so dangerous look no further.
So, who is Leonard Haynes? Start with this biography of the man [and here]. He earned a Ph.D in higher education and served in the Department of Education during both Bush administrations. Dr. Haynes sounds like an interesting guy, but I can find nothing that points to a single publication or presentation on the subject. Is there any evidence that he has ever written anything about the Civil War let alone the subject of black Confederates?
Hey kids, if you don’t know how to search and assess Online sources then stay away.
A few days ago I mentioned that I was in contact with a 7th grade history teacher in Boston, who wanted to introduce the subject of black Confederates as part of a unit on the Civil War. Well, today the instructor reported back with a detailed overview of the lesson. I think it’s a wonderful example of how this subject, along with the related issue of media literacy, can be introduced at the middle school level. A number of school districts in Virginia have had difficulty addressing the recent scandal involving the 4th grade history textbook that included false claims about the service of slaves in the Confederate army. This need not be the case. In fact, it’s a golden opportunity to address some of the fundamental misconceptions of the war as well as the veracity of the sources of these claims. Here is an example of a teacher making a difference.
Again, Kevin, I owe you tremendous thanks for your guidance on this topic; your suggestion to follow the UVA lead on “Retouching History” along with your own coverage of the websites purporting to educate the online community about Black Confederates were invaluable. Here’s a detailed overview of what we’ve been up to:
1) For homework last Thursday, I asked kids to conduct some research into the topic of Blacks fighting for the Confederacy. In case you want to see how I framed the question, here’s the text of the email I sent them:
During the flag project, Heather sent a representative of the Sons of Confederate Veterans an email asking for his perspective on the Confederate flag. In Mr. Barrow’s response, he mentioned that one way to show that the flag is not necessarily a symbol of slavery is to consider that Blacks actually fought for the Confederacy; if this was the case, he reasoned, how could the cause of the South been to preserve slavery?
This presents an interesting opportunity. Let’s figure out if he is correct in his statement that large numbers of Blacks fought for (not against) the South. Your homework, then, is to conduct about a half an hour of research into the topic of Blacks fighting for the South.
For my second installment in this series I thought we would take a quick look at Ann DeWitt’s Black Confederate Soldiers site. It’s one of the more recent sites to appear and it is growing in popularity. Feel free to suggest websites that might be worth exploring at a later date. I apologize for the sound quality. I am still playing around with a couple of programs so hopefully things will improve.