I’ve been writing about this subject for much too long to be surprised by the emergence of the black Confederate narrative by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in response to last Wednesday’s shooting in Charleston. Black Confederate soldiers have been coming to the SCV’s and other Confederate heritage supporters rescue since the late 1970s, following the release of the popular mini-series, “Roots.”
This particular incident is unfortunately tailor-made for this myth. In a statement released by the South Carolina Division, SCV they maintain that neither the Confederate flag nor the history of the Confederacy has anything to do with the reasons behind Dylan Roof’s actions.
Historical fact shows there were Black Confederate soldiers. These brave men fought in the trenches beside their White brothers, all under the Confederate Battle Flag. This same Flag stands as a memorial to these soldiers on the grounds of the SC Statehouse today. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a historical honor society, does not delineate which Confederate soldier we will remember or honor. We cherish and revere the memory of all Confederate veterans. None of them, Black or White, shall be forgotten.
The historical record suggests that Confederate soldiers never acknowledged the existence of black comrades in arms during the war, though thousands of slaves performed a wide range of functions in the armies and elsewhere. They certainly didn’t acknowledge their presence while massacring black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow or the Crater and there were no signs of black soldiers while rounding up hundreds of fugitive and escaped slaves during the Gettysburg Campaign in the summer of 1863.
Even a cursory glance at the historical record shows that white Southerners did everything they could, even after the point where many believed the cause was lost, to avoid recruiting black men into the army.
Today black Confederate soldiers are everywhere and they almost always arrive just in time to remind the general public that the Confederate war had nothing to do with the maintenance of slavery and white supremacy. It neutralizes those very elements of the Confederate experiment that the men and women, who sacrificed everything to bring about a slaveholding republic, acknowledged as the core of what we might call “Confederate Exceptionalism.”
According to the SCV, and others who trout out the black Confederate myth, blacks and whites in the South have always embraced the same agenda. Before the war blacks were content as slaves. During the war they embraced the same goals of Confederate independence and after the war they once again accepted their place in a reconstructed society. Disturbances to this peaceful paternalist picture was always the result of outside agitators, whether they be those pesky abolitionists or postwar carpetbaggers and scalawags.
In this sense, Dylan Roof is an extreme example of a modern scalawag. According to the SCV he failed to understand that peace and love have always united whites and blacks throughout the history of the South.
Our membership is made up of descendants of Native-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, Christians and Jewish who took a stand for the Cause they believed was right. The love and defense of the South’s symbols, culture, and heritage is not hate. It is knowing and understanding of the truth.
Fortunately, this view of the past is in decline. The response to Confederate iconography and its history suggest that black Confederate soldiers are now part of a rearguard action that is doomed to failure.