At the Heart of the Black Confederate Matter

Update: I just wanted to take a second to encourage all of you to read Pete Carmichael’s presentation in its entirety. The last thing I want is for you to read this post as some kind of hatchet job. His thoughts regarding battlefield interpretation deserve a careful read and perhaps in the next few days I will have the opportunity to explore it further.

I almost want to apologize for this post because apart from the recent Civil War Times editorial by Gary Gallagher I haven’t thought much at all about this subject.  Unfortunately, I missed a really good public history panel at the OAH that included Peter Carmichael and Ashley Whitehead, both of who discussed what they see as the future of battlefield interpretation.  [Thanks to John Rudy for posting a transcript of their talks.] I encourage you to read both of their talks because I am only going to poke at an ancillary point made by Pete at the beginning of his presentation.

So we’ve got to move ahead. One thing that strikes me is that we have a hard time doing as historians, public historians or academic historians, that we need to recognize that the interpretive battle has been won. Certainly there are pockets of the lost cause out there, and we certainly need to contend and address those issues, but we often bring undue attention to those pockets of resistance. And the blogging is largely responsible for that, in exciting and talking about the issue of the Confederate slave. Man, that’s not an issue among professional historians, that’s not an issue with most of the public, but it is an issue with really, I think, a small minority.

On the one hand I agree with much of this.  Teachers and public historians are no longer up against a widely-held framework that attempts to justify the Confederacy.  At best, they are echoes of the lost cause.  I also agree that the veracity of the black Confederate narrative found on hundreds of websites is not in any way a concern of academic historians and at best on the radar screens of a “small minority” of the general public.

Regarding the role of blogging in publicizing this issue, I am assuming that Pete has me in mind, which is fine.  My response to Pete is pretty much my response to Gallagher, but let me tailor it a bit to the above reference.

For me the essential issue here is not the content of the myth, but what it tells us about how history is now being disseminated.  Most importantly, the growing popularity of the black Confederate narrative on the web suggests that any traditional notion of authority entertained by academics or understanding of what it means to be a gatekeeper is obsolete: “Every man his own historian.”  It seems to me that professional historians across the board ought to be more sensitive to how the Internet has shaped the public dissemination of history as well as how their students as well as the general public are learning about the past.  More importantly, public historians and museum educators ought to be sensitive not only to the information and assumptions that visitors bring with them, but on how they plan to respond when it conflicts with solid scholarship.  In short, they must respond not simply to the misinformation, but with a method of how the information is acquired.

In the end, the issue for me is not so much about countering the myth itself, but understanding how ordinary people acquire information.  History educators need to be teaching how to go about conducting targeted online searches as well as how to evaluate websites.  It’s an opportunity to share with the general public how historians evaluate sources and construct interpretations.

Let’s stop blaming bloggers and let’s keep our focus on the issues that truly matter and which unite all of us as educators. 🙂

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

34 comments… add one
  • Brian Oct 15, 2012 @ 10:11

    I really loath those that merely take what is told them by some blogger, or teacher even as divine truth… It doesn’t take much to find the truth all you need to do is read period documents and not post 1960’s civil rights propaganda.

    The arguement will continue as those who try to supress the truth and only view our history through 21st century ideals and those of us who see a much more complicated era where differences weighed much more heavily than is given credit.

    The mere term Black Confederate gets modern historians and blogging kooks like Kevin all up in arms because it doesn’t fit their agenda or what they were told…

    Truth be it that reading period reports and documents might lead you to a different conclusion if you bothered to even imagine a world not quite like the present.

    Kevin’s definition of a Black Confederate is a free man who volunteers for service. While the reality is more complicated…. To state there were no free men of color in the south, well your misguided… To suggest there were no free black men who owned slaves, you are also misguided.
    If you think that not a single black man in the south volunteered, then too you are misguided…

    Kevin will rebut any article or report you find, I know I have debated him in the past… Do I believe there were 10’s of thousands? NO I do not… but they did exist even in small numbers and to deny such is the REAL MYTH…

    Even if the “Confederacy” as a whole didn’t have an “official” policy didn’t mean they didn’t exist…. It was forbidden for blacks to meet in groups to discuss although that never stopped Thomas Jackson from running his sunday school, teaching young blacks to read and write…

    Those “slaves and body servants” you refuse to call Black Confederates were paid, and they were paid “equally” as the white soldiers… Unlike the black union FODDER that Lincoln used to continue the desolation of the south.

    “I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do, in saving the Union.”
    ~ Abraham Lincoln in a letter to James C. Conkling dated August 26, 1863.

    Free States and Slave states did NOT mean what you think they did… Free states meant “white only” and YOU know it…. The norths black code laws define this pretty clearly…

    GO on pushing your agenda… Unless you plan to burn every book, every manuscript and every document, this battle will continue…

    meanwhile for those of you who are teaching our children… shame on you… How dare you indoctinate our children into a lie?

    You celebrate Lincoln’s war as a war to free the slave, but the arguement is weak at best… It’s a failed attempt to paint the US in a light of good vs evil… When in fact the only thing Lincoln ended was the spirit of 76…

    • Andy Hall Oct 15, 2012 @ 12:46

      You argue that researchers need to look to the original sources, and then quote a single line out of a famous letter to suggest that Lincoln had no real interest in emancipation, and only saw the enlistment of black troops as a way to save white soldiers’ lives. But let’s look at that sentence in context:

      I know, as fully as one can know the opinions of others, that some of the commanders of our armies in the field who have given us our most important successes believe the emancipation policy and the use of the colored troops constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the Rebellion, and that at least one of these important successes could not have been achieved when it was but for the aid of black soldiers. Among the commanders holding these views are some who have never had any affinity with what is called abolitionism or with the Republican party policies but who held them purely as military opinions. I submit these opinions as being entitled to some weight against the objections often urged that emancipation and arming the blacks are unwise as military measures and were not adopted as such in good faith.

      You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you; but, no matter. Fight you, then exclusively to save the Union. I issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union. Whenever you shall have conquered all resistence to the Union, if I shall urge you to continue fighting, it will be an apt time, then, for you to declare you will not fight to free negroes.

      I thought that in your struggle for the Union, to whatever extent the negroes should cease helping the enemy, to that extent it weakened the enemy in his resistence to you. Do you think differently? I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do, in saving the Union. Does it appear otherwise to you? But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do any thing for us, if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive–even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept. . . .

      Peace does not appear so distant as it did. I hope it will come soon, and come to stay; and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time. It will then have been proved that, among free men, there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and that they who take such appeal are sure to lose their case, and pay the cost. And then, there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonnet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they strove to hinder it.

      Thanks for your suggestion to look at the original document, Brian — without having done that, I might have thought you’d made a valid point. 😉

  • Dudley Bokoski Apr 27, 2012 @ 18:34

    The idea history is a “battle” to be won or lost is a relatively new one. Opening up the narrative of the Civil War to include more emphasis on slavery and the effect on civilian population is not an “either/or” proposition, yet the tenor of these conversations would make it seem there is a choice which must be made between “battles and leaders” and the expanded narrative. That strikes me as anti-intellectual.

  • Jimmy Dick Apr 27, 2012 @ 14:55

    One of the keys here is to understand how to handle the incredible amounts of data that are now available via the Internet. History programs are teaching how to sort through the clutter to find information and then how to interpret the information as to whether it is valid or invalid. The first rule of thumb is to trust nothing on face value. Everything must be confirmed and validated. This is a learned technique in processing information. It isn’t just applicable to history. It affects all aspects of knowledge and information. Take a regular news article from any source. Is it valid? Does it contain a bias? Could it be a deliberately crafted article to mislead the reader?
    There are plenty of these situations all over the Internet. Even reputed and well known news agencies can be wrong as we’ve seen throughout history. They also can be biased. In our modern age we see this between left and right and of course other situations. One must decode the article and look for the language used to determine the author’s bias. Often the facts are present in most news stories, but they can be arranged and worded in multiple ways. Businesses are affected by this as well. I work for a company that for years made its living by finding information. Now it too suffers from a glut of information. It has been forced to change its information gathering system to now incorporate information sifting or mining to find the relevant information that is flowing into its system. Basically the information stream went from some to a lot in a relatively short time. Now they have to figure out how to process that flood and deliver usable data to their clients.
    In the case of blogs and academics, not all academics dislike blogs. The problem they see with them is the same as with any information they find. Is the information valid? Keep in mind a lot of the older academics are seeing the way they wrote articles and information significantly altered by the digital age. You no longer need to spend hours going through book after book after book or the same with documents. A lot of them but certainly not all have been digitized and can be searched via electronic means. In some cases historians don’t have to travel long distances to gather up information or spend weeks and months at a location doing research. However, the problem of information overload is now a major problem as well as knowing how to sort through the information to find “good” information and discarding what is “bad” information.
    Academics still have plenty of keys to the information. They’re trained on how to sort it and make sense of it. The newer generations are incorporating the Internet in their toolkit. They’re on the blogs. Personally I think they just get tired of arguing with people that refuse to incorporate facts when those facts contradict their opinions. Let’s face it. There are people that just refuse to change their minds even when they’ve been proven wrong. As one person here mentioned, there are teachers that deliberately lie to their students because they want their opinions to be believed instead of the facts. When you look at that you can understand why the Lost Cause lie has been around so long.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 27, 2012 @ 17:42

      In the case of blogs and academics, not all academics dislike blogs.

      No one has ever made such a claim and I am in no way implying some kind of phony war between bloggers and academics. Thousands of academics in the sciences and humanities run blogs.

  • Ken Noe Apr 27, 2012 @ 5:41

    I’m going to take a contrarian view to most of the comments. I’ve taught at public institutions in the Deep South for twenty-two years. Invariably I mention the “black Confederate” issue in class, and invariably next to none of my students have ever heard of it. A majority walk in on day one ready to point to slavery as the root cause of the war, even if their interests otherwise tend on the Confederate side. These are students coming from private/Christian as well as public high schools. The “interpretive battle,” may not be over, but it has seen a major momentum shift in the last decades.

    To the wider topic, just the other day I assigned my students a few web sites and Facebook pages of all shades and asked them to use the blog rolls to surf further on their own. A majority who commented later were primarily dismayed by the name-calling. They recognized obviously partisan sites and ridiculed a couple of them. They also expressed real concerns that the net, or a world without gatekeepers, might become the primary venue for future Civil War education. Their final predictions for the Bicentennial, based on the notion that the internet might supplant books and classrooms, were often dystopian.

    • Ralph Poore Apr 27, 2012 @ 7:56

      Ken, as a Southerner, I appreciate you bringing some balance to this discussion.

      The current state of the blogoshphere calls to mind the state of newspapers in the Early Republic and what the Founding Fathers had in mind for a free press.

      Their idea was that a free press would not necessarily print the truth, but that the American people would be able to discern the truth from among competing views.

      If freedom means only being able to express the ideas that others agree with, then what’s the point, and where is the freedom? Freedom includes the right to be stupid and wrong. We need more freedom and fewer gatekeepers.

    • GDBrasher Apr 27, 2012 @ 8:05

      (Kevin, I will try not to stray too much here, so bear with me). I suspect that these are students taking an upper-level Civil War course, which by definition means that most have studied and/or thought about the matter more than others. They are also very aware that “liberal” academics (who their parents have warned the all about) will not be sympathetic the South, so they perhaps keep their contrary opinions close to the vest. Every semester I have online discussions with my survey level students (via anonymous online postings) in which I ask them to tell me how the Civil War was presented in their high school classes, and the majority refer to coaches teaching their classes who stressed “States Rights.” (Having grown up here, I was taught this as well. In fact, the very first question on our last test of the semester was “what caused the Civil War?” The multiple choice responses included “slavery” and “states rights” and there was only one correct answer he would accept. It wasn’t slavery.) In addition, I’ve taught at a community college in Alabama in which I was the only instructor (of 4) teaching slavery as the cause of the war, and in fact one of the instructors assigned DiLorenzo to their students (and not in order for them to think critically about why it is bad interpretation.) That same instructor also teaches his students about “Black Confederates.” Which brings me around back to what Kevin wants to keep the discussion focused on. I think I will now add “Black Confederates” to my online questions and see what I get.

      • Kevin Levin Apr 27, 2012 @ 8:31

        Thank You Ralph and Glenn. I just burned my croissant while reading and thinking about your comments. 🙂

      • Rob Baker Apr 27, 2012 @ 9:31

        ….the majority refer to coaches teaching their classes who stressed “States Rights.” (Having grown up here, I was taught this as well. In fact, the very first question on our last test of the semester was “what caused the Civil War?” The multiple choice responses included “slavery” and “states rights” and there was only one correct answer he would accept. It wasn’t slavery.)

        Interesting story. I grew up in the mountains of North Georgia but I consider myself fortunate. I had a teacher/coach for U.S. history (in fact he was the head football coach) and he taught it from the prospective that I heard again in college (it wasn’t states’ rights) Now I teach just outside of Atlanta in the Lawrenceville area and I’ve had students tell me other teachers taught the states’ rights alternative. Interesting given that Gwinnett County is in the “shadow” of Stone Mountain.

  • Kevin Levin Apr 26, 2012 @ 15:28

    Thanks everyone for the comments, but let’s steer clear of the issue of whether we are still fighting the lost cause. I realize it is referenced in the post, but it’s not really my primary interest.

    The other thing is that I encourage you to read both Peter’s and Ashley’s presentations, which are incredibly thoughtful and reflective of those who are on the front lines of public history.

    As always, thanks.

  • Will Stoutamire Apr 26, 2012 @ 11:32

    I think the belief in the black Confederate myth is confined to a relatively small, vocal minority, but that doesn’t negate the importance of countering that narrative – in the places where it is most prominent, i.e. on the web – for the benefit of the general public. As you and some of the commenters rightly point out, more and more people are turning to the internet for information, not academic monographs. Historians must adapt and acknowledge the democratizing role (for good and for ill) of this medium.

    Likewise, it’s dangerous to assert that “the interpretive battle has been won” against the lost cause. This may be true in academia, but recent polling shows that more Americans still embrace a states’ rights view of the war ( These are not isolated pockets of ideologically motivated individuals. If the ultimate goal of history includes educating those beyond our insular scholarly circles, then we cannot ignore this reality.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 26, 2012 @ 11:35

      Thanks for the comment, Will. I am going to clarify my position re: the lost cause in a future post.

      • GDBrasher Apr 26, 2012 @ 13:43

        Pete is wrong. Period. I love the guy and owe a lot to him, but the interpretive battle has not been won. He grew up in Indiana, got his PhD in Pennsylvania, and has never taught in the Deep South. The closest he even got was short stint in North Carolina. Thus he is not aware that way down here in the Heart of Dixie MOST students are coming out of high schools where the lost cause is still taught as gospel. It isn’t “small pockets.”

    • Pat Young Apr 27, 2012 @ 3:42

      The Pew survey shows that the younger the respondent is, the more likely (s)he is to say that the CW was about states rights rather than slavery. I’ve had my law school students tell me that their high school teachers (in the north) say that the war was really about states rights and an overweening Federal government. This interpretation would seem to owe less to Confederate ancestor worship than to the modern conservative agenda.

  • Brooks D. Simpson Apr 26, 2012 @ 9:48

    This is becoming a turf war over who controls what’s important enough to be discussed. That’s why I find the targeting of bloggers to be curious. Somehow bloggers are both insignificant and to be feared as somehow disrupting someone else’s endeavors. And, of course, that’s most effectively done by complaining to one’s fellow practitioners, because that will get out to the public, right? Hint: only if someone blogs about it.

    I could just as easily say that the vast majority of professional historians now agree that disruption which led to secession and then war was somehow tied to slavery … but they keep on pointing that out to people who do not agree.

    It’s also an interesting statement about how isolated some professional historians are from a general public and a K-12 educational system where these questions are not always settled, as anyone who deals with that public knows. How many times a year do I get asked questions about Grant and drinking? Enough to make me want to conduct more research into the effects of alcohol consumption upon fed-up biographers. 🙂 And yet isn’t that largely a “settled” question among the degree-carrying crowd?

    Here’s what I think is odd: if you look at various blogs over the last several months, there’s been very little posted about black Confederates, especially after the attention paid to Silas Chandler. So it seems to me that some folks are behind the curve.

    Folks had better understand that for all the talk about how the internet has revolutionized the research of professional historians (which I think is an overstatement), it has revolutionized how K-16 students learn about history and conduct research … and not always for the better. Perhaps professional historians should worry less about their authority as interpreters and more about their authority in certifying the authenticity of the very sources upon which so many people rely to conduct their research.

  • Keith Muchowski Apr 26, 2012 @ 9:19

    Kevin, I could not agree more. As a librarian I spend half my day asking students to think critically about where the information they consume is coming from and how best to evaluate it. It never ceases to amaze me how many otherwise intelligent people do not think about this. I mean, really, it is foundational and many people hardly give it a thought. You’re right, too, that it is not just the web/blogosphere. Even information provided by “the best” sources and institutions (Park Service, etc) should be held to greater scrutiny by their consumers.

  • Ralph Poore Apr 26, 2012 @ 9:07

    HURRAH! I’ve been trying for several years to make your very point with my academic historian friends: They are no longer the gatekeepers of what is history.

    When not met with outright hostility, I get blank stares.

    As a former reporter and editor (I have degrees in both journalism and history), I saw this same thing happen with newspapers. The Internet has changed everything. Newspapers proved themselves mostly unable to adapt. A very few academic historians seem to understand how the landscape has changed. As for the rest, they seem less willing to surrender to reality than were my rebel ancestors.

  • Carl Weinberg Apr 26, 2012 @ 9:01

    The head-in-the-sand approach to the black Confederate issue employs same sort of logic that “good people” in Germany applied to a certain Munich “fringe” crackpot during the Weimar Republic: ignore it, and it will go away. You can ignore “fringe” history all you want, but if it’s believed by millions, then it has power. Views of history affect the way that we all act today and in the future. Kudos to Kevin for fighting the good fight on this issue.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 26, 2012 @ 15:38

      Hi Carl,

      I agree and I think the best we can deal with fringe history found Online is teach students how surf responsibly. The bigger issue, however, is that the historical community needs to do a better job of explaining what it is they do to the general public. Perhaps it is too late given the extent to which history has become politicized.

      • Margaret D. Blough Apr 27, 2012 @ 4:53

        Kevin-That’s why (and I did read Peter Carmichael’s entire presentation) I think his view is dangerously naive. I cannot tell you how often I see people cite Thomas DiLorenzo as a source in all seriousness.

        I think what he argues for is the old who shot who where narrative dressed up in new clothes and I think he misrepresents expanded interpretation. It never was and is not an enemy of a discussion of military history nor is it an enemy of understanding the devastating impact that this terrible war had on a country that was fighting itself. What expanded interpretation does is present context at appropriate places and time and explain why this terrible war occurred at all and how the issue of slavery affected the conduct of the war itself. The Emancipation Proclamation was a big deal to both the Confederates and the enslaved. When emancipation became a Union war aim on a par with restoration of the Union, then it affected the potential for a settlement and it affected international perception of the conflict.

        I was part of the battles for expanded interpretation during the development of the current GMP for Gettysburg NMP. I still hear people complaining about the role that slavery is given in the museum and in the film. Quite frankly, the fact that Dr. Carmichael now heads the influential Civil War Institute concerns me. However, time will tell as to how this plays out and I’m not going to jump the gun. I’ll wait and see how this turns out.

        • Kevin Levin Apr 27, 2012 @ 5:02


          I assure you that there is no one more committed to the kind of interpretation that you support than Pete Carmichael. He is not suggesting that public historians roll the clock back on recent developments in battlefield interpretation. What I believe he is concerned about is the question of how to impart the scope of the war’s destructiveness on a population that tends to keep war at arms length. We worry about accurate artillery demonstrations, when we should be thinking more carefully about how to connect those guns to larger issues that extend even to current overseas wars.

          Again, Pete is not fighting against “expanded interpretation.” In fact, a large number of current NPS rangers studied under Pete at UNC-Greensboro, West Virgina University, and Gettysburg College.

          • Will Stoutamire Apr 27, 2012 @ 9:48

            I think their point about artillery demonstrations – taken as an example of a larger issue – is very interesting (though I’m not sure how I feel about Pete’s comparison to drone strikes, I’d have to think about that more).

            I think the most salient point for me, of which the artillery demos are just one example, is when Pete talks about how battlefields have become “decorative landscapes” and how we have commodified/domesticated them into nicknacks that can be purchased and taken home. I’ve had the pleasure of working with both Pete and Ashley at NCPH and on the NCPH CW working group the last few years (unfortunately didn’t have the cash to go this year 🙁 ) and this issue, or a variation of it, has been a recurring theme. I think it’s something that deserves a lot of conversation now and after the sesquicentennial – how do we help visitors move beyond the pastoral beauty of many battlefields? The cannons, the monuments, the waving fields of grass, the quiet – for all the talk of battlefield restoration, the participants themselves would never connect these places with their experience. The modern viewscape and soundscape can, if not properly interpreted, create for visitors a very disconnected experience. Places like Gettysburg – sites of, among other things, immense death and tragedy – become beautiful parks where it is all too easy to separate oneself from the human reality, or to lose oneself in the military technology and strategy. Or, as Ashley pointed out, get lost in the “cool factor” of seeing a cannon go off, and lose track for a minute of its intended purpose as a “killing machine.”

            We’ve all heard a thousand times the apocryphal Lee quote: “it is well that war is so terrible, lest we should grow too fond of it.” I’ve heard it thrown around from all sides of the CW spectrum – historians, buffs, Southrons, etc. And yet many go right back to our nifty cannon demonstrations, $2 die-cast cannon souvenirs, and pristine landscapes. I can’t help but wonder if in depoliticizing the battlefield, the cannon, etc., we allow for the opposite to be true.

            Of course, places like the (relatively) new Gettysburg visitor center are an excellent step in the right direction.

            • Kevin Levin Apr 27, 2012 @ 10:05

              I couldn’t agree more with you, Will. Pete and Ashley certainly give us much to think about re: how we connect with the horror that was a Civil War battlefield. That was the biggest challenge that I faced when teaching the war and in bringing my students to these sites. Unfortunately, we still tend to celebrate the war and remember it in almost complete isolation from the rest of American history as well as in comparison with civil wars elsewhere. There is something quite disturbing about the fact that we build gift shops on these sites of mass death and violence. We need to think outside the box even if it results in a little criticism.

              • GDBrasher Apr 27, 2012 @ 10:53

                When I was a seasonal park service ranger at Cold Harbor, I worked with Pete and was very inspired by his style of tours. We both made sure to stress the brutality of what had happened there, and both of us used very vivid and at times graphic soldier quotes to drive home the point. Often after hearing one particular quote which described the bloated, decomposing bodies that lay between the lines, I had visitors become visibly shaken. I always followed it up by saying, “You can tell that I do not see my job as being about coming out here to glorify war.” I think Pete and Ashley are absolutely correct in this regard, and this discussion of gift-shop trinkets on the battlefields is very interesting. The worst I have even seen is a mug being sold at Antietam that features the famous photograph of bodies near the Dunker Church. Tacky, of course. But by making it a mug, does this not desensitize us to the war’s death and carnage? I think his comments in regards to “Black Confederates” and the vitality of the Lost Cause are in error, but at many sites the NPS could do a better job of making sure that the gift-shops on their premises are not “playing at war.” I think most rangers do a good job on their tours and presentations, but that message can certainly be diluted by other things in and around the parks. And what of the majority of people who come to a park and never take a ranger guided tour? Is it just scenery, cannon as jungle-gyms, and cool stories of war’s perceived glory? I’m afraid that might be so.

  • Pat Young Apr 26, 2012 @ 8:35

    Spoke to an educated relative in his 20s last night who knows I research the CW. He asked me why so many Slaves volunteered for the Confederate army.

    He has never visited a Lost Cause web site and is very liberal in his political opinions. I ask him why he believed that there were Black Confederates and he responded that he had heard it many times.

    • Kate Halleron Apr 26, 2012 @ 13:16

      Did you point out that slaves were incapable of volunteering for anything?

    • Michael Douglas Apr 26, 2012 @ 13:38

      Over the past year I’ve been hearing about alleged black Confederates from people whom I know don’t read Civil War or history blogs. This along with the usual “it was about states’ rights” mantra. Now, the latter is very long-standing tradition, but the black Confederates thing is new. These are not people to whom I lend much credence, particularly since they’re using these issues as talking points to bolster their positions on completely unrelated issues of race and culture. But I have to wonder if there isn’t some central clearing house of misinformation. 😉 Surely they’re not getting this from Fox news!

  • cg Apr 26, 2012 @ 8:34

    I agree with you on the need to be aware of how the majority of people learn history, and the unorthodox methods people use to construct new interpretations.
    Black Confederates alone aren’t an isolated modern phenomenon of a near-dead interpretation. If so, we might happily do as Pete says and ignore it. I wish. But there is a larger, growing, alternative history of the United States, fostered by the likes of Glenn Beck, David Barton, et. al., that readily inverts conventional thinking on a variety of American history subjects. They maintain things like: Pilgrims were socialists turned capitalists; the Founding Fathers were evangelical Christians; orthodox Christians abolished slavery; Woodrow Wilson was the proto-Stalin; Saul Alinsky was the chief interpreter of Marx (and Satan) in America; George Bush was a Progressive; and, yes, the Confederates States fought for the welfare of African Americans, a cause which African Americans themselves recognized.
    This interpretation is developing a notable, um, “scholarly method” that, as you note, relies heavily on the Internet and popular publishing (very much like 1970s/80s era Conservatives who rejected the academy and “mainstream media” for think tanks, newsletters, and radio.) It operates entirely outside our conventional methods of deep archival research, contextualization, peer review, etc.
    Damn, I feel like a conspiracy theorist when I put it this way.
    Anyhow, it seems to me that BCs are only one front of this wider struggle. You are fighting on this one; John Fea is fighting it on another; folks like Michael Kazin and Jill Lepore are on yet another; and some of us skirmish in the classroom, and many more in interpretive parks. What is important is what you state—it’s not just the particular interpretation that’s at issue…what matters is the thinking and methodology behind it, because those “pockets of resistance” are not sweeping themselves into the proverbial dustbin. Hell, I wouldn’t consider the History section at Barnes & Noble to be a pocket of resistance.

    • cg Apr 26, 2012 @ 8:48

      Ugh. Sorry about the formatting and the grammatical errors–written in haste.

    • Rob Baker Apr 26, 2012 @ 11:14

      Kevin I think your interpretation and the importance of the digital age is why academics should concern themselves with the blogosphere. They are no longer attempted to deconstruct arguments in the field, but abroad. All it takes is one popularity shift and the argument is lost.

  • Barbara Gannon Apr 26, 2012 @ 8:00

    Pete teaches at a school that cost 45K a year tuition–children of the enlightenment. Out in the rest of America, we still deal with the lost cause and blogging against it is not the problem. This reminds me of when the stopped recruiting soldiers for the Union in spring summer 1862, a premature declaration of victory.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 26, 2012 @ 8:08

      Bloggers are not responsible for the popularity of this myth. As I pointed out in response to Gallagher’s editorial the websites were there long before any blogger entered the scene. The National Park Service, NPR, and countless local newspapers have done more than any blogger can do.

      Re: the lost cause, I think Pete is talking more on an institutional level, which I think has some merit. The problem that is not being addressed is the extent to which it matters given how people acquire information Online.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.