Former Slaves in the Spotlight, but With No Vote

black confederate, ludwell brownThis morning I was perusing some of my favorite Facebook pages when I came across this gem of a photograph. The image of three elderly black men waving Confederate flags is accompanied by the standard comments from the Southern Heritage crowd. It’s not particularly interesting given the number of photographs that clearly point to the presence of black men at Confederate veteran reunions and other public events throughout the postwar period.

In this case, however, we have an account written in 1937 by Lucy Williams about one of the individuals in the image, who went by the name, “Uncle Lud Brown.” In the hands of southern whites following the war Ludwell Brown became another former slave, who “feels no bitterness” over having been owned. We should also not be surprised to learn that Brown was a former slave who performed various duties in the Confederate army. It’s not clear who he was attached to, but the evidence points to a role as a body servant or impressed slave. Surprisingly, Williams also comments on Brown’s participation in the parade.

Uncle Lud says one of his happiest experiences occurred recently, when he was asked to attend the sesquicentennial in Lynchburg. He was taken by some of his white friends to Lynchburg, and there joined two other Confederate soldiers, Silas Green of Lynchburg and Gabe Hunt of Rustburg. The three were asked to ride in the parade and were placed in a Victoria belonging to the Guggenheimer family and drawn by two handsome bay horses. The three were given Confederate flags and they proudly waved these flags as the line of march proceeded.

After receiving much attention during the day from both white and colored people, the day was declared to have been one of the happiest, and Uncle Lud returned to Brookneal and to his work where he is seen daily, rain or shine, with his horse and buggy still in the service of Uncle Sam.

Lynchburg was founded in 1757, which places the year of the parade described in this passage as 1907. The date provides a bit of context in which to interpret this image. A few years earlier, Virginia revised its state constitution that left the vast majority of the state’s black population disfranchised. This followed a period of intense black political action stemming from the success of the Readjuster Party in the early 1880s. Parading three former “loyal” slaves around with Confederate flags reinforced the Lost Cause narrative of the white South and encouraged peaceful race relations at the height of the Jim Crow Era.

Note: For those of you in the Boston area I will be speaking on the topic of the myth of the black Confederate soldier on Monday November 4 at 7pm at the Nevins Memorial Library in Methuen. Come on out.

8 comments… add one
  • Victor Oct 30, 2013 @ 11:37

    I think historians get caught up in these big debates and forget that all these “black Confederates” were regular people. I’d like to propose these assumptions that tend to get overlooked:

    1) Slaves were uneducated for the most part. I have no doubt that some stayed with their former masters after the war. Call it Stockholm Syndrome or whatever, I’m sure there were very old or infirm freedmen and women who didn’t know any other life and didn’t want to lose what little they did have.

    2) Not every person is an activist, even if they are the victimized people. When 1907 rolled around, things were bleak for black Americans. I can believe that somewhere out there there was a man who didn’t care about politics and just wanted to be left alone. Come a day when there’s a big parade and someone wants him to hop in a buggy and wave a CSA flag, it’s entirely possible he did it not because he loved the Confederacy but because “Hey, what else is there to do?”

    “Considering the infinite range of human memory and experience I’m sure the loyal slave narrative has some basis, but the raw numbers are beyond our statistical control now”

    This. Exactly this. It’s nearly impossible to prove that there were “black Confederates” because most of the evidence is so circumstantial in favor it. But there is overwhelming proof that most slaves fled when they had the chance. But I can see situations where someone was loyal to a family perhaps, if not the new Confederate ideal. Perhaps a skeptic who didn’t believe things would be any better regardless of who won.

    But clearly the “loyal slaves” were just pawns of the post-Confederate memorial machine.

  • eclecticdog Oct 29, 2013 @ 8:08

    Considering the infinite range of human memory and experience I’m sure the loyal slave narrative has some basis, but the raw numbers are beyond our statistical control now. Generally, when I think of the loyal slave I think of Julia Grant’s servant, Julia, who took the opportunity during a visit in 1863 to Illinois to abandon her mistress and live as a free women. I’m sure there were more nonloyal slaves than loyal, however, transportation being what it was in the 1860s, people didn’t move a lot. So former slaves had to make do as a freed people living among their former masters. That these three men were invited and participated is a fact. What their or their hosts’ motivations were is harder to figure out. What we think about this in the present says more about us than them.

  • Trap Oct 27, 2013 @ 20:02

    In 1907 what would have been the punishment for refusing to be put on display? Even if records show they were with confederate forces at some point, it makes no sense to argue blacks willingly fought to deny their own freedom. ‘No thank you, I don’t want none of that freedom stuff. I’ll fight for massa so I can remain a slave, and all my ancestors will remain slaves too. I look forward to seeing my grandchildren whipped the same way they whipped me.’

  • steve Oct 27, 2013 @ 12:08

    Makes me wonder about the black union soldiers attending reunions after the Civil War. The very states they fought against were the states that ratified the 14th amendment making them citizens, and the states they fought for would not give them the same status, not even the courtesy to let them become American citizens. If the South was as racist as portrayed in this blog, I doubt very seriously that three black gentlemen, would be in a parade driven by a white man, or even given war pensions for “armed” black “servants”.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 27, 2013 @ 12:16

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for the comment. Instead of referencing the 14th Amendment why not offer an interpretation of the image based on the accompanying document linked to in the post and your understanding of the history of the period in question. I look forward to your response.

  • bryanac625 Oct 27, 2013 @ 5:33

    I think I could appreciate this picture a lot more if I didn’t know that in 1907, Blacks were segregated out of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness;” or that 58 Blacks were tried and convicted at the hands of lynch mobs, as opposed to due process. And I’d say it’s very likely that these three men spent their lives not knowing how to read or write.

  • London John Oct 27, 2013 @ 1:00

    I understand that it’s rather well-established that black Southerners never told white Southerners (I’m assuming Lucy W was white) what they really thought.

  • Forester Oct 26, 2013 @ 15:41

    How much of the “loyal slave narrative” can be attributed to some form of Stockholm’s Syndrome? Battered wives, abused children, cult members hostages and some military personnel (esp. child soldiers) prove that people can exhibit irrational loyalty to their captors. In that light, there may really have been loyal slaves …… but for a rather sick and twisted reason.

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