One of my readers passed on an interesting story that fits perfectly into my series of posts on so-called black Confederates. Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia is scheduled to declare March 5 to be “Bill Yopp Day”; the ceremony will include descendants of Yopp as well as state legislators and a number of “notable historians.” Unfortunately, there is no indication as to which historians have been included. For what it is worth the author of an upcoming work of historical fiction based on Yopp’s life has been invited. I’ve never heard of Yopp so I find this story and especially the plans to commemorate what many take to be a legitimate black Confederate to be quite interesting. The event is being advertised as part of the month-long commemoration of Confederate history. Who was Bill Yopp and why is he being commemorated? The only information I could find online comes from various Southern Heritage sites, which tend to repeat the same themes and include very little in the form of serious research. Check out the following sites:
Apparently, there are a number of newspaper articles from the turn of the century which indicate that Yopps “served” as a drummer in a regiment with his master and helped to secure Confederate pensions for the state’s veterans at the turn of the century. Yopp is apparently the only black man in the state buried in a Confederate cemetery.
What I find interesting is the decision to commemorate Yopp’s life during March rather than February which is Black History Month. The timing suggests that Yopp’s significance is to be understood in terms of how white Georgians have chosen to remember his life. Is it possible that it would have been more difficult to celebrate the Confederate connection of a black American during the month of February? It seems to me that if black and white southerners are committed to demonstrating the loyalty of large numbers of slaves to the Confederacy than they should be comfortable acknowledging this as part of Black History Month.
Beyond the newspaper articles that are available does anyone know if Yopp’s life has been analyzed by a legitimate historian? I suspect that the answer is no, but will wait to hear otherwise. If I am right I would suggest that someone take up this topic. It would make for a great case study of Civil War memory and may shed light on the postwar construction of black Confederates. Perhaps I will do it myself.
Short Additional Thought
One of the striking features of the numerous websites where you will find examples of so-called black Confederates is how little information is actually included concerning their individual lives. The value that is placed on the lives of these men is purely instrumental in terms of the extent to which they support an agenda whose goal it is to remove any discussion of race and slavery from the analysis of the history of the Confederacy and the Civil War. Their lives are reduced to their supposed “service” and “loyalty” to the Confederate cause and their masters. No attempt is made to come to terms with their lives as individuals as rooted in their own local experiences. Their presence in the army is taken for granted rather than as something that needs to be explained. In short, these men are stripped of their humanity and agency because the individuals who write about them have no use for the totality of their experiences.
A short survey of SCV websites and other organizations read as if their content were “xeroxed” (or cut and pasted) from one site to another. This stands in sharp contrast to the recent historiography of slavery which is deeply rooted in both time and place and in working to highlight the individual experiences of slaves to the extent that the available evidence permits.