Yesterday I briefly touched on a story out of Valdese, North Carolina involving Reverend Herman White, who was asked to address a group of students as part of the area’s Founders Day Festival. Rev. White shared his own version of the region’s history that included stories of loyal and happy slaves and other scenes out of his Lost Cause playbook. The most disturbing aspect of this story is that the entire situation was easily avoidable. A number of people associated with the school administration claimed that they could not know what Mr. White would touch on in his remarks.
Unfortunately, even a basic online search would have raised any number of red flags. This is the same Rev. White who was responsible for the course at Randolph Community College back in 1998 in which he spewed his racist nonsense of happy slaves and tens of thousands of loyal black Confederate soldiers. Clearly, this man doesn’t belong anywhere near students in a learning environment. I blame the school officials for not taking the proper steps to do even a simple background check on Rev. White.
The Internet can be a wonderful source for reliable and important information on historical subjects. It can also be, and often is, a source for misleading and damaging information about the past. There is no better example of this than the divisive topic of “black Confederates.” Misinformation abounds on sites organized by individual SCV chapters as well as private individuals. There is no quality assurance mechanism and a search engine’s ranking algorithm has nothing to do with veracity. In the case of black Confederates the problem is not simply that the information is unreliable, but that it is easy for it to spread, which in turn compounds the problem. A quick tour of black Confederate websites reveals that many of these narratives or snippets of evidence are cut and pasted from one website to another.
Not only are the many poorly-constructed narratives filtered around without any attempt at analysis, but individual historians have also fallen victim to this practice. I’ve already mentioned the case of Ed Bearrs, who has regularly been singled out as a historian who has acknowledged the existence of these men. Even worse, he has been quoted over and over as having implied some kind of conspiracy to keep these stories under wraps. There is no evidence that he has ever said such a thing and I’ve learned through reliable sources that he has denied ever suggesting it.
Continue reading “Cutting and Pasting Black Confederates”
Looks like the Sons of Confederate Veterans is amending their Constitution. You can read the proposed amendments here, but one in particular struck me as kind of funny:
Proposed Constitutional Amendment – 2010-3
Proposed by Charles Kelly Barrow
John McIntosh Kell Camp 107
2.1. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, in furtherance of the Charge of Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee, shall be strictly patriotic, historical, educational, fraternal, benevolent, non-political, non-racial and non-sectarian. The Sons of Confederate Veterans neither embraces, nor espouses acts or ideologies of racial and religious bigotry, and further, [ strongly ] condemns the misuse of its sacred symbols and flags in the conduct of same. Each member is expected to perform his full duty as a citizen according to his own conscience and understanding.
I guess this means no more talk of thousands of loyal slaves fighting as Confederate soldiers. And while you are browsing the SCV’s online store make sure you pick up a copy of Antebellum Slavery: An Orthodox Christian View (2008) by Gary Lee Roper which claims an orthodox Christian defense of slavery:
Continue reading “Does This Mean No More Talk of Black Confederates?”
A group of historians and other concerned citizens recently lobbied the commissioners of Union County to “recogniz[e] the contributions of 10 black Confederate pensioners, known as colored troops during the Civil War.” We’ve seen all this before and it doesn’t look like anything will steer certain folks away from making this all too common mistake regarding the conditions under which black Southerners were given pensions after the Civil War. The assumption seems to be that a pension indicates that a given individual served as a soldier in the Confederate army. [For some reliable commentary on pensions please read James Hollandsworth, Jr., Robert Moore, and the Library of Virginia.] The group wants to install a small monument to these ten individuals in front of the old courthouse in Monroe.
The most disappointing aspect of this story is to read the words of the descendants of these men who were forced to endure the horrors of war as property, ultimately without any choice in the matter.
Aaron Perry of Charlotte is the great-grandson of one of the pensioners, also named Aaron Perry, a Union County slave who fought with the North Carolina 37th Company D. Although the Confederate States lost, their story should be remembered. “I think it’s a great thing,” said the younger Perry, 72. “It’s been a long time ago, so I’m not going to overlook that. What’s so bad about it? They’re honoring these 10 North Carolina soldiers for being helpful to their country, even if it was under slavery. “They lost that war, but my great grandfather helped rebuild the camp at Fort Fisher,” Perry said. “He played his part, even though he was under slavery and somebody else’s command. When you enlist in the service, you’re taking orders from somebody.”
Notice how Mr. Perry completely collapses the distinction between status as a slave and citizen. In what way was the Confederacy “their country” given the constitution’s provisions that specifically protect the institution of slavery? Even worse is the failure to distinguish between having to take orders within a military command – a responsibility that under certain conditions is conferred on citizens – and status as a slave which views the individual as an extension of his master’s will. What could be clearer?
Of course, it should come as no surprise that Earl Ijames is involved in this nonsense. Ijames works as a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, which is part of the NC Department of Archives and History. I guess Ijames couldn’t resist referencing Weary Clyburn, who happens to be his favorite “Colored Confederate.” Unfortunately, Ijames isn’t even sure whether Clyburn was a slave or a free man at the time of the Civil War.
Between Perry and Ijames we get a sense of the quality of “research” and thought that seems to be behind this project. I am sad to say that in 2010 we have two African American men, who are essentially hoping to erect a monument to faithful slaves of the Confederacy. What could be more pathetic?
I am slowly gathering materials for my next book project on “black Confederates” that I agreed to write for Westholme Publishing. A few weeks ago I ordered the two volumes on the subject published by Pelican Press, which includes Black Southerners in Confederate Armies and Black Confederates – both edited by Charles Kelly and J.H. Segars. In addition to these two books I also have on hand James Brewer’s study of Virginia military laborers, Ervin Jordan’s study of slaves and free blacks in Virginia, and Bruce Levine’s excellent analysis of the debate to arm slaves in the Confederacy. Of course, there will be plenty of additional material utilized for this study, but there are very few decent book-length treatments of this particular subject.
Given the quality of books published by Pelican I have to say that these two books will be extremely helpful, but I suspect not for the reasons intended by the editors. Both books include a wide range of primary documents, including newspaper accounts, pension files, cartoons, service records, photographs, and historical markers. There is very little commentary and what is included is entirely useless as historical analysis, but very helpful when it comes to understanding how the subject has been remembered. These books can be found as references on many neo-Confederate websites and SCV sites that focus on this subject. What is so striking, however, is that even a cursory glance at the information provided in these two books reflects and incredibly complex and fascinating subject and yet most people can’t seem to get beyond the Lost Cause language of “loyalty” and “devotion” along with the common refrain of numbers and claims of cover-ups. I’ve never seen primary sources so poorly interpreted and under utilized for their historical value.
Both Pelican books include references to Silas Chandler. A few days ago I received an email from a descendant of Silas Chandler, who has agreed to provide me with archival material that she has collected over the years. Better yet, this individual has agreed to co-author an article with me on Silas for one of the Civil War magazines. This will give me the opportunity to explore questions and issues that will be addressed in much more detail in the book-length project. It will be quite satisfying to be able to use the Pelican books for their primary sources on Chandler and at the same time demonstrate just how shallow and, at times, inaccurate the information provided is.