Henry Louis Gates on Free Blacks and the Confederacy

I am going to feature this video with just a little commentary. Some of what Gates says here is just bizarre. Free blacks were “unmolested” by the Confederacy. Tell that to historian Clarence Mohr. In addition, according to Gates, the “dirtiest little secret in African-American history is that a surprisingly high percentage of the free Negros in the South owned slaves themselves.” Perhaps one of you can tell me what “high percentage” means in this context. Continue reading “Henry Louis Gates on Free Blacks and the Confederacy”

The Black Confederate Trend

A couple of years ago I tried to track the frequency of references to “black Confederates” on the Internet by using Google’s Ngram application. Unfortunately, it is no longer available, but I did recently come across Google’s Trend application, which functions along the same lines. It also includes more recent data. Back in September I discussed the possibility that this narrative has finally peaked.

The spike before 2010 corresponds to the Washington Post report on a Virginia textbook that included a reference to thousands of blacks fighting with Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley. You will also notice a spike in the middle of 2011, which is when History Detectives aired its segment debunking the story of Silas Chandler.

Click here on how to interpret Google’s Trend Graphs.

Imagining Confederate Emancipation Then and Now

cleburne_webToday is the 150th anniversary of General Patrick Cleburne’s proposal to enlist slaves into the Confederate army. It’s an extraordinary document, in term of what it says and – in light of the continued influence of the black Confederate myth – what it does not say. The Civil War Trust has made the text of Cleburne’s proposal available with certain sections highlighted. If you don’t have the time stick to the highlights.

As many of you know 150 years ago citizens of the Confederacy were not aware that a high-ranking general had issued such a proposal because President Jefferson Davis ordered that it be suppressed. Cleburne’s proposal was not the first, but the military situation of the Confederacy and the widespread use of black men in the Union army gave it much more weight. Indeed by the middle of the year Confederates in the army and on the home front were debating various proposals. Most thought the idea was absurd and those who sanctioned it did so only as a means to stave off defeat. Continue reading “Imagining Confederate Emancipation Then and Now”

Henry Louis Gates and Black Confederates (Redux)

Yesterday Henry Louis Gates published an extensive piece on the process that led to the recruitment of African-American soldiers during the Civil War at The Root. It’s well worth reading. As I was perusing the piece I wondered whether Gates would use the occasion to discuss the controversy surrounding black Confederate soldiers. Continue reading “Henry Louis Gates and Black Confederates (Redux)”

Did Impressed Slaves Serve the Confederacy?

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I want to quickly follow up on the last post about the UDC’s recent induction of an African American woman, whose ancestor was brought into the Confederate army as a camp servant. In the post I referenced the UDC’s guidelines for membership and speculated as to whether they might be interested in welcoming the descendants of the thousands of impressed slaves who toiled for the Confederate government throughout the war. Thanks to UDC member, Betty Giragosian, for the following comment.

Kevin, my African American friend joined the UDC on the record of her great grandfather who helped build the earthworks in Gloucester, Virginia. This was giving material aid to the Confederacy. Maybe his service was not on the battlefield, but it was service, nevertheless. She told me that when she saw the earthworks for the first time she burst into tears. She is proud and happy to be a member of the UDC and we are proud to have her. She is an asset to our organization. We have never barred African Americans from membership. Someone wonders why there is a push to gain membership of African Americans. I do not think this is, that there is a push. This is a different time and place. Why not give us credit for changing for the better.

While I appreciate the comment I believe it reflects a flawed understanding of the relationship between slaves and the Confederate government. I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating. White southerners who either volunteered or were drafted into the Confederate army served as citizens of a nation. We understand citizenship as involving a reciprocal obligation between the individual and state. The government protects the rights of the individual and maintains order and in exchange it may be necessary at certain times for citizens to come to the aid of the state in the form of military service.  Continue reading “Did Impressed Slaves Serve the Confederacy?”