Have Black Confederates Become Too “Rainbow”?

Yesterday’s post reminded me that I never addressed a comment posed by Ken Noe from a few weeks ago in response to another story about the discovery of a supposed black Confederate. Ken wondered about the frequency of these stories in recent months.

You have me thinking, Kevin. As the heritage movement becomes more factionalized and in obvious cases radicalized, if the drift really is toward the sort of southern national cells and defenses of white exclusiveness Brooks Simpson has been chronicling of late, has the ‘black Confederate’ topic necessarily peaked? Is it becoming too “rainbow?” It occurred to me this morning that I’m running into it less often. But perhaps your experience is different.

Self-described racists in the Confederate heritage community refer to ‘Rainbow Confederates’ as those who envision an idealized Confederacy made up of blacks, whites and other ethnic groups peacefully co-existing. Black Confederate accounts minimize the story of slavery and white supremacy and attempt to situate the Confederacy within a broader narrative of racial progress. It’s a popular story for those in the Confederate heritage community who have a need to push the tough questions of race and slavery to the side.

I’ve also come across these stories less and less in recent months, but I am also at a loss to explain why. There may not be anything at all to explain, though I suspect the Virginia textbook scandal of 2010 has something to do with it. That story was picked up by local, national, and international news agencies. The frequency of stories related to United States Colored Troops has certainly emerged as the dominant racial narrative in the last year as has the broader theme of emancipation.

Any thoughts?

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15 comments… add one
  • Ken Noe Sep 16, 2013 @ 6:39

    Thanks to all for the feedback to my original comment and Kevin’s follow-up. Obviously the trope is still alive, and I suspect that some of you are right that it is too ingrained now to disappear completely. If nothing else, Google and cut-and-paste will keep historians playing whackamole for a generation. .But there are other angles that seem to continue being recycled without any let-up, while I still see this one popping up less frequently, so I’m not sure if we’ve just reached saturation. I guess we’ll see how the sesquicentennial plays out. Let’s hope that we’re seeing an example of good historical methods trumping bad.

  • London John Sep 16, 2013 @ 0:06

    Can it be that the claims of Black Confederate soldiers are drying up because you and your allies have shown them to be rubbish? Your friend Michael Lucas seems to be a late-flowering example, but most of the BC propagandists have withered under the weed-killer of evidence. What you’re dealing with these days seems to be the feeble argument that, as slaves did jobs in the Confederate army that were done by enlisted soldiers in the Union army, these slaves “should be considered” as soldiers. To which the only answer is: consider what you like, it won’t change the facts.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 16, 2013 @ 1:25

      That’s impossible to measure. I will say you don’t see the same claims re: Silas Chandler on certain webpages that were once made not too long ago.

  • AD Powell (@mischling2nd) Sep 15, 2013 @ 16:43

    In order to imagine “black Confederate soldiers,” you have to play fast and loose with the definition of either “soldier” or “black.”

    • Kevin Levin Sep 15, 2013 @ 17:37

      More precisely, you have to play loose with the concept of the citizen soldier.

  • Rkop Sep 15, 2013 @ 15:39

    What does it mean that there’s a group of people who want what their ancestor’s wanted in 1865? Clearly, The libertarians provide some fog for these groups so that they can coalesce with people who like the economic principles of the old south (cheap labor, aristocrats above the law). But why do they even exist in modernity? Is it because people who lose wars never can really move on? Or are they like the Amish. Do they live in a very close-knit tribe that is very occupied with a “calhounite” past?

  • Christopher Graham Sep 15, 2013 @ 5:58

    Just some offhanded and glib remarks here…. if the search for black Confederate soldiers is a way to validate an otherwise odious racial agenda, then the black Confederate recently got called up to the big leagues of national politics when conservatives so recently and so obviously tried to claim MLK as one of their own. MLK: the ultimate black Confederate.

    It should be no surprise to historians that these social trends come and go because of small contingencies and large outside forces. As historians, we must add the decline of static surrounding the black Confederate to our explanations of why it was important to some people and our stories about why it happened. As public historians, we must be ready to move on from black Confederates and meet the next challenge, or create new ones of our own.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 15, 2013 @ 6:15

      As historians, we must add the decline of static surrounding the black Confederate to our explanations of why it was important to some people and our stories about why it happened. As public historians, we must be ready to move on from black Confederates and meet the next challenge, or create new ones of our own.


  • Rkop Sep 15, 2013 @ 5:54

    Within the southern heritage movement, are you saying there’s a “bitter Enders” faction who want to restore or celebrate the south of 1850? And then there’s a liberal wing which could, in theory, accept the equality of African Americans?

    • Kevin Levin Sep 15, 2013 @ 6:01

      The divide (to the extent that it exists) in the Confederate heritage community is between those who see the black Confederate narrative as reflecting a racially progressive Confederacy and those who celebrate its commitment to the preservation of slavery and white supremacy.

    • M.D. Blough Sep 15, 2013 @ 7:31

      I have seen material from those on the “bitter ender” side who openly state that the only thing bad about slavery was it’s end. Within the bitter end faction, there are those who still cling to the Calhounite “slavery as a positive good” for both races defense. There are others who, quite frankly, couldn’t care less if slavery benefited blacks. Their lament over its demise was the end of the benefits to whites.

      As for accepting equality, I’m honestly not sure if there are all that many. Some of what you describe as liberal still adhere to a modernized version of the “happy slave” myth. It’s really a pre-20th century mind-set in which, so long as basic civil liberties are respected, don’t require political or social equality. Otherwise, the modern day adherents would have to contend with the fact that the Confederacy never made a substantive move to end slavery as an institution, Even the last minute legislation to enlist slaves was fraught with conditions. The most “liberal” express their belief that, left alone, the Confederacy would have come to emancipation and equality in the not too distant future. They, however, fail to give any substantive evidence to support that belief.

  • Woodrowfan Sep 15, 2013 @ 5:32

    That’s an interesting point. Also, how much might it have peaked because now it’s “accepted wisdom” among the Southrons crowd?

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Sep 15, 2013 @ 4:44

    I think “Rainbow Confederates,” i.e., Black, Hispanic, Native American, Jewish, German, Irish, and women are really the only multicultural/diverse history some people can deal with. In other words, I would not be surprised at all to know that some of the people who celebrate a “multicultural Confederacy” are the same ones who complain about having Black History Month.

    BTW, at the last living history event I participated in (Liberia Plantation in Manassas, VA) as a soldier in the 23rd USCT, some of the visitors brought up Black Confederates with us. One of our guys mentioned that there have been occasions before where even though the were dressed as USCT soldiers and had the US flag displayed, someone still asked, “Are you guys Black Confederates?” Good grief.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 15, 2013 @ 5:40

      I don’t doubt it one bit. The number of stories published over the past few years has certainly had an impact.

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