On Black Confederates and Civil War Monuments

Back in October I spent some time with C-SPAN to talk about my new book, Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth and the current controversy about Confederate monuments on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I really enjoyed this interview and the opportunity to talk about the monument controversy just steps from where “Silent Sam” once stood on campus. CSPAN did a really good job of supplementing the interview with relevant illustrations.

I don’t usually post interviews on the blog, but I really enjoyed doing this one.

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10 comments… add one
  • London John Jan 31, 2020 @ 3:15

    I think the additional point is that white supremacy provided a non-material benefit for white southerners in allowing them to enjoy feeling superior to Blacks. I believe some Confederate or ante-bellum idealogue said someting to the effect that in the slave South all white men formed an aristocracy, altho’ I can’t trace the quote. That is why even many Whites who had no property were invested in white supremacy.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 31, 2020 @ 3:22

      Yes. Non-slaveholding whites in many regions were invested in slavery for numerous reasons.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Jan 29, 2020 @ 17:29

    Thanks for posting. But I have to say I was a bit surprised by what you said about Alexander Stephens and the “Cornerstone” speech. I admit myself that a detail in the speech didn’t occur to me until a couple of years ago. But it’s an absolutely important detail.

    Read the speech carefully. As you know, he says about the Confederate government:

    [I]ts foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

    Noteice that he speaks about WHite Supremacy before he even mentions slavery. In fact, he could have just said the new government’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man” and stopped there. Slavery, of course, was the natural by-product of White Supremacy for White Southerners in 1861. So, it’s definitely a close second (really, the two were inseparable).

    I think it’s very important to stress this point, especially when the argument comes up that so-and-so’s “poor” ancestors were not slaveholders. The point is that you have to have money to own slaves. But you can be dirt-poor and be a White Supremacist. There is no question that Stephens was trying to bring all White people, regardless of position, together to stand on the Cornerstone.

    If you’re interested, here is a great video with a fantastic historical analysis of the speech.


    • Kevin Levin Jan 29, 2020 @ 18:00

      Hi Bryan,

      Nice to hear from you. Sorry, but can you remind me what I said about Alexander Stephens? Thanks. 🙂

      • Bryan Cheeseboro Jan 30, 2020 @ 4:03
        • Kevin Levin Jan 30, 2020 @ 4:09

          OK, got it.

          Not sure what you are inquiring about here. Stephens’s reference to slavery as the “cornerstone” of the Confederacy is often seen as something abstract – the ideological underpinnings of the nation. What I was trying to argue is that it was very real and could be seen in the armies that took the field between 1861 and 1865. Without the institution of slavery there is no Confederate army or a very weakened one. Hope that helps.

          • Bryan Cheeseboro Jan 30, 2020 @ 10:59

            My point is that I think when Stephens spoke about the “cornerstone,” he was speaking to the slaveholder and the non-slaveholder alike to unite them to the cause of White Supremacy. I suppose that would make it precise. And of course, Black slavery is the expected by-product of the “cornerstone.”

            “Without the institution of slavery there is no Confederate army or a very weakened one.”

            How funny is it that people see themselves as so superior to others but yet, they can’t survive without them.

            • Kevin Levin Jan 30, 2020 @ 12:09

              Thanks for the follow up. I think we are saying the same thing unless I am misunderstanding your point.

              • Bryan Cheeseboro Jan 30, 2020 @ 12:30

                I think so. To be sure, the White Supremacy of the Confederacy is essentially slavery as nothing else was really expected of Black people.

                • Kevin Levin Jan 30, 2020 @ 12:59

                  Right. Slavery was drawn along racial lines and defined white supremacy. And as we know, white supremacy survived the abolition of slavery in 1865.

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