Welcome to Dixie Outfitters (and what it all means)

Edgerton, black confederate

Black Confederate Fashion by H.K. Edgerton

A few months ago I had a conversation with Alan Levinovitz, who teaches at James Madison University. As a new member of the community there were a number of things that struck Alan as strange and begging for explanation. At the top of the list is the local Dixie Outfitters store in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Alan asked if I could provide some context for the store’s presence and stock, especially those H.K. Edgerton t-shirts. The inquiry was in preparation for an article he was planning for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

The article is now online, which I highly recommend. A few of my comments about the myth of the black Confederate made it into the piece.

“People don’t believe in the black Confederate narrative because they’re crazy,” explains historian Kevin Levin. “They believe it because they read it. It’s on a website that looks professional, has all the bells and whistles, and includes images, primary sources of all kinds. How could it not be true?”

Levin’s long-running blog, Civil War Memory, is on the front lines in a battle between established historians and a vocal minority who insist that most academics are biased liberals bent on slandering the South. Dixie Outfitters is a part of this minority, and its company website includes a history section with over eighty links to information about black Confederates.

Read the rest of the essay here.

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!

9 comments… add one
  • Dave Kearney Sep 14, 2013 @ 14:29

    Just an a “nearer” term historical observation on Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, my family lived in both the City and the County for several years when I was a youngster — late 50s, early 60s. The following observations and thoughts come from a mixture of memory and fondness enough in the intervening years to have at least some interest in the area’s history.

    At the time my family lived the area and I think still today, the western part of the County has counted a significant number of Mennonite families which, of course, have a determined point of view toward war, and I think maybe of involuntary servitude. Their roots go back before the Civil War. Yet, we lived on an edge of the Burnt District which was so devastated by Sheridan’s troops. An irony.

    Valley people, as I understand, were even more decidedly mixed with respect to their views toward secession and slavery at the time of the Civil War than Virginians living east of the Blue Ridge — in part because of religion, in part because of a fair amount of Pennsylvania roots (such as for Abe Lincoln’s paternal line), and in part because Valley farms tended to be family farms, with a livestock and wheat emphasis, not as conducive to enslaved labor as was the case east of the Blue Ridge, or especially in Tidewater with more of a plantation culture.

    Even into the 1970s, the “Valley Republican” was probably best seen as more liberal in some ways (such as with racial equality, but maybe not on social matters generally) than the majority Virginia “Massive Resistance” Democrats. As with party realignment throughout the South in the second part of the 1900s, some … maybe a lot … of families with these Valley Republican roots may have followed party into the 1900s instead of their parents’ underlying beliefs.

    In short, the Valley historically seems a place that has had a fair amount of social and political diversity for a long time … I don’t know if perhaps that has “constricted” over the past 30 years or so, to be less diverse in some ways.

    It’s funny that my dad talked very openly and proudly about General Phil Sheridan’s mad ride back from Winchester to the Cedar Creek battlefield in late 1864 to rally his Union troops and to snatch victory away from Jubal Early. On family Sunday drives, my dad even sought out old bridges that he thought that Little Phil maybe had ridden across that day in 1864… looking back, I’m glad that none of the wrong people heard my dad talking … but maybe I probably had nothing to really worry about in the Valley.

    These are just some fairly random thoughts … of a former 6-year old. I certainly loved our time in the Valley.

    Dave K

  • Brad Sep 10, 2013 @ 17:31

    With respect to the German soldiers, please note I said Germans, not forced soldiers from other nations. Some Germans fought because they had no other choice but by and large that was not the case.

  • grandadfromthehills Sep 10, 2013 @ 7:07

    ” The German soldiers who fought for Nazi Germany thought they were doing the right thing as well.”

    Umm… part of the German problem in Normandy was their use of conscripts from other nations. They quickly surrendered when given an opportunity – even killing their own German NCO. Many Germans fought for Germany fought for Germany because they had no other choice.

    Some of what Steve has to say bears consideration even if it was written with a rather angry point-of-view. Slavery was a horrendous institution and needed to be abolished. It was key to the agri-economy of the states which left the Union. There were border states in which slavery may have not been so essential stayed with the Union. However, racial bias was strong on both sides. For this, the USA was guilty. The European whites considered themselves to be superior until they finally came to recognize the obvious; it took over a century after the Civil War for that to become widespread.

    As for those of us who have lived and been educated North of the Mason-Dixon Line, we need to be careful not to become biased against those whom we may think to be less understanding of the issue that we are. And for those of us from south of the Mason-Dixon, we do not need to maintain our “feeling” of being maligned every time someone makes an argument for the “right” of the Union in the Civil War or the North (Steve). A little respect for each other please! Grin & bear it, folks!

    Sam Vanderburg
    Being a hippie at the moment

  • Brad Sep 10, 2013 @ 1:10

    Interesting article but ultimately I can’t share his conclusions. I have no doubt that people thought they were attempting to defend a way of life but it is a way of life whose principal institution was dedicated to the enslavement of others and that is what that flag represents. The German soldiers who fought for Nazi Germany thought they were doing the right thing as well.

    This may be a throwaway line but I find it peculiar when he says that people who subscribe to or write racist history are not racist. That seems to be rather faulty logic.

    I also found it revealing that Mr. Barber was either ignorant of history or chose to conveniently forget certain facts. It’s probably a combination of both.

    I also found it amusing how one of the commenters asked the author if he could now do a redemptive piece on the swastika. You don’t need to say anything more than that; it says it all.

  • Steve Sep 9, 2013 @ 19:20

    I am not a self loathing apologetic Southerner. I am very proud of my Confederate ancestors and unlike most of the statements I have read, i honor all Confederate soldiers, white, black,Native American, Hispanic,Jewish and Chinese. these are the races that actually served the Confederacy.Though denied by some people on this blog, I have seen to much proof to confirm, and when brought up with the facts these people fought for the Confederacy, it is claimed a shoddy research or some other reason to vilify the South and make the self righteous Northers feel better.
    I always hear, you lost the war get over it, I say, I would love too! I am not allowed too! The Yankees are quick to point the slavery finger at the south, yet omit the fact that there were 5 slaves states in the union during the entire war, one slave state was created a joined the union after the Proclaimation of emancipation was put into effect. Please explain how you can “fight to free the slaves” only to expand the union slaves states? Kentucky, union state, was the last slave state! I constantly read and hear the South wanted to expand slavery, appears that was a northern plan, with West Virginia. It took the Southern states to pass the 14th amendment, because Northern states would not ratify the 14th amendment. Ohio did not ratify the 14th until 2003- the same state that wanted to deport African Americans out the country. It took California until 1959! prior to the war, the list of northern states to keep African Americans out is very long, I dare say almost every northern state had a law to keep blacks out. Where was does the racist finger point now? I love the use of the underground railroad went to the north, yeah north to Canada! Why- most northern states did not allow blacks in their states! Google – KKK washing DC, and you will see picture after picture of the cowards and the U.S. flag. Those sheet wearing cowards stole my flag.
    Want to see racism, read grants general order 11!
    The same people who deny that the Black confederate soldier existed, despite the overwhelming evidence, are the same people who will say Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Klansman- despite the total lack of proof. If you can find evidence that will stand up to the same requirement of a court of law. I and many other people would like to see it.
    General lee told his men to go home and be good citizens, we try, but we are not allowed.
    If you use today’s morality on the south, then, I hope to see charges that Grant, Sherman and Lincoln are war criminals! The crimes committed against the souther population and native Americans, is worse than anything the south ever did.
    Remember, the CSA ceased to exist in 1865, yet it was the policies of the US to segregate the blacks in the armed forces.
    From looking at a lot of the laws and plans of the North , I would almost have to say, maybe the war was caused by the north on the South, not to free the slaves, but to get the African race out of America!
    Bottom line, do not believe what is on this website, do your own Due diligence, go to the national. Archives, local archives and. Seriously research the war. It was not good for the country, but with an open mind you will discover all sorts of good info. Books are good, but not the tell all!

    Please stay up north and leave us alone!

    • Kevin Levin Sep 10, 2013 @ 1:20

      Bottom line, do not believe what is on this website, do your own Due diligence, go to the national. Archives, local archives and. Seriously research the war. It was not good for the country, but with an open mind you will discover all sorts of good info. Books are good, but not the tell all!

      Thanks for the advice, Steve.

  • grandadfromthehills Sep 9, 2013 @ 13:41

    Good article. I think John Coski’s explanation in The Confederate Battle Flag tells a lot about what I see in my friends and family. I am not one to tolerate a racist very easily. I do see the “duty, soldierly valor, ancestry, heritage, and tradition” that have been attached to the flag by those who wish to proclaim Confederate heritage. However, my own sensitivity to others will not allow me to go about waving this flag or hanging it in my window. I appreciate the positive things for which it stands. But just as the Souix descendants of the Broken Knee massacre may despise the U.S. flag for this atrocity, so others may offended by the Confederate battle flag. There are positives and negatives to the flag. I choose to stand under the “Old Glory” myself and for the good it does mean! I like the positives of the Confederate flag, but I cannot accept that it did not stand for the protection of the major reason for the states rights arguments that broke out and lead to the war.

    Sam Vanderburg
    Having a good time anywhere I go.

  • Ann Kunkle-Jones Sep 9, 2013 @ 10:06

    Thanks for this article link. What a thought-provoking article that’s going to have me thinking for awhile. I usually read your blog and love the articles, but this one really caught me – I went to grad school at JMU and my first experience living in the south was in Harrisonburg, VA. After grad school I moved back to Wisconsin and only in the last 2 years was back in Harrisonburg to visit and I notices a number of things – like this type of shop that I hadn’t noticed 20 years ago. Were they there and I just didn’t notice them? Are they new? Have I become more attuned to looking for this kind of thing? I can’t really answer my own questions.

    Thanks Kevin (and Alan)

    • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2013 @ 13:20

      You are very welcome, Ann. Dixie Outfitters is a relatively new company. Clearly the company has tapped into a relatively small, but loyal clientele. Alan’s article only begins to address this aspect of the story.

Leave a Reply to Kevin LevinCancel reply

Your email address will not be published.