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
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
The next episode of PBS’s The African Americans airs on Tuesday night.
The African American in antebellum times was, as the stereotype held, reliable, faithful, hardworking, malleable. Indeed, one entrusted one’s children, one’s property to such people. Now, of a sudden, the African American becomes demonized, a threat, a lascivious beast roaming the countryside of the South, people loosed by the end of slavery and now upon us like locusts. Well, this was an absurdity. — David Levering Lewis
Edward Sebesta seems to think that there is a Neo-Confederate boogeyman lurking around every corner. His reading of a post by Ta Nehisi-Coates on my recent visit to Harvard to listen to a talk on black Confederates by John Stauffer led him to post the following at H-Afro-American:
Henry Louis Gates is promoting the neo-Confederate nonsense of black Confederates at Harvard. You can read about it here. I am not sure what else is happening at Harvard, perhaps the physics department is promoting the idea of caloric fluids, or the chemistry department is reviving the idea of phlogiston. Perhaps the biology department is going to be teaching creationism. Maybe the geology department is going for a six-day creation. The astronomy department might be re-considering Ptolomeic spheres.
I won’t go into how the overwhelming weight of historical evidence is against it. What I think is of importance is what this reveals about Henry Louis Gates. There is a current effort to get Confederates memorialized at Harvard. It might be that the rationalization will be that persons of African ancestry fought for the Confederacy so it is okay. That is the underlying point of this Black Confederate nonsense.
Sebesta’s attempt at humor only serves to highlight his ignorance about the presentation and Gates’s interest in the subject. He doesn’t even seem to be aware that the talk was presented by John Stauffer. Gates simply hosted the event. I’ve already shared what I perceive to be some major problems with Stauffer’s presentation as well as Gates’s comments during the Q&A. To assume that Gates is providing the “rationalization” to have Confederates memorialized at Harvard Memorial Hall, however, is patently absurd and irresponsible on his part.
Correction: One of my readers noticed some very sloppy writing in this post that I wish to acknowledge and correct. I wrote that the SCV did not reference Clyburn as a slave, which is untrue. Interviews with members do include such a reference. What I should have said was that there was no clear reference to his status in the brief clips that show the actual ceremony. Even Earl Ijames references Clyburn as a slave, but like the SCV their language is unclear and inconsistent, which was the point I was trying to make. The crucial distinction between a soldier and slave has all but been lost in all of this. Thanks to the reader for keeping me honest and I apologize for the confusion.
I wanted to share some thoughts with you about last week’s talk by John Stauffer on black Confederates. I had a number of problems with his presentation, which you can read here. One of the questions I’ve had since the talk is why the W.E.B. DuBois Institute would be interested in such a subject and then I remembered that you have had some exposure with this narrative, most recently while filming your PBS documentary, Looking For Lincoln. As a former high school history teacher I want to thank you for this series. At the time I was teaching a course on the Civil War and historical memory so the show fit in perfectly. My class was able to watch individual segments as a basis for further discussion or other activity. We all thoroughly enjoyed it.