today on the radio discussing the subject of black Confederates. The hour went by fairly quickly and with the commercials the interview probably lasted about 45 minutes. Ben Fordney posed some interesting questions and there were also a few phone calls. I tried my best to keep the focus on why these stories are so prevalent as opposed to debating the evidence. The fundamental problem is that there is so little evidence and very little interest in serious analysis by those who push this topic. The fact that there is no agreement on numbers suggests how little we know, but the more difficult problem is that overly simplistic language that is employed in trying to prove large numbers of black Confederates.
Towards the end of the show an elderly women read from a pamphlet from some Confederate heritage group that explained secession by referencing high tariffs and Lincoln’s failure to end slavery at the beginning of the war. What I find so interesting is that what appears on the surface to be a point that has nothing at all to do with the subject at hand it actually has everything to do with it. The agenda of proponents of black Confederates, either explicitly or implicitly, is to minimize the importance of slavery and race to the Confederate experiment and the war as a whole. If you can show that secession was not about slavery or that Lincoln was a racist than somehow that demonstrates that the Confederate government was not established to protect the institution of slavery. If that doesn’t work that go for the line that black Southerners were loyal to the Confederate government and fought to maintain it. It has little to do with an interest in uncovering historical truth. I forgot to make the obvious point that the advocates of this story are just about all white. Why don’t we have substantial numbers of black Americans acknowledging the existence of large numbers of loyal black Confederate soldiers? Are we to believe that they are intentionally ignoring this little piece of history? Could it be that there weren’t any beyond the small number (perhaps 20-25) that Robert Krick uncovered in his analysis of 100,000 service records?
At the end Fordney concluded that this is a topic that will remain divisive and widely debated and he is no doubt correct about this. I made it a point to quickly interject that this is in fact not a hotly debated topic within the professional historical community. In my last class today I made it a point to emphasize the importance of asking the right questions when thinking about the past. We could use a little of that here.