Sons of Confederate Veterans and Black History Month

February is Black History Month. Started by Carter G. Woodson in the early twentieth century as Black History Week the month is popularly viewed as an opportunity to highlight the rich history of African Americans. This is certainly true, but for organizations like the Sons of Confederate Veterans it is an opportunity to spread the myth of the black Confederate soldier.

My recent book, Searching for Black Confederate Soldiers: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, singles out the SCV as largely responsible for introducing this myth in the 1970s in response to an evolving Civil War memory that focused increasingly on slavery, emancipation, and especially the service of black Union soldiers. The black Confederate narrative was introduced to defend the honor of the SCV’s Confederate ancestors and to made it easier to identify with the history and legacy of the Confederacy.

The myth is also a way for the SCV to reach out to a wider constituency in recent years as the South itself becomes more racially and culturally diverse. See, for example this popular social media meme.

It should come as no surprise that during February groups like the SCV redouble their efforts to push aside what Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens referred to as the “cornerstone” of the Confederacy, namely slavery and white supremacy in favor of a more multi-cultural/racial image. It’s a move that their ancestors would find foreign and in most cases offensive.

This year the SCV is off to a fast start. This video was posted to their official Facebook page and feature a young African American college student by the name of Sammy. Take a look.

It’s hard to know where to begin, given that there are so many problems and outright lies. The video begins with the common Lost Cause trope that the Confederacy was defending state rights between 1861 and 1865. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Confederacy was incredibly intrusive from conscription to the suspension of habeus corpus.

It also included the impressment of tens of thousands of enslaved people to work on various military projects to support the Confederate war effort. Sammy appears to be completely oblivious to the fact that the mobilization of black bodies brought the Confederacy close to independence more than once and would have likely guaranteed the continued enslavement of his ancestors.

But the most shocking aspect of this short video is the use of archival photographs that compliment Sammy’s discussion of black Confederate soldiers. Not one of these images depicts a soldier. They are all photographs of body servants or camp slaves taken during or after the war. They even include the famous photograph of Andrew and Silas Chandler, which has been thoroughly debunked more than once.

It’s unfortunate that a young African American man agreed to take part in this video. I don’t profess to understand his motivations, but it is important to remember that African Americans have always been instrumental in the spread and maintenance of the Lost Cause. At the turn of the twentieth century, for example, they participated in Confederate veterans reunions as symbols of loyalty to their former owners, the memory of the Confederacy, and an emerging Jim Crow culture.

The SCV’s continued campaign of disinformation is a reminder that they are losing the battle over history. This narrative has all the elements of a desperate attempt to stay relevant and even legitimate as communities across the country debate whether Confederate flags and monuments have any place on public property.

Finally, this is a reminder of why Black History Month is still necessary.

Civil War Memory has moved to Substack! Don’t miss a single post. Subscribe below.

9 comments… add one
  • Eric A. Jacobson Feb 2, 2020 @ 7:29

    Samuel French. Just because his name is French does not he mean he WAS French. He was English as anybody who has ever read his autobiography would learn…on page ONE.
    Scotish is misspelled.
    Benjamin Huger was not Italian. But his bloodline had some French in it. See #1.
    When did Irish, Scotish (sic), English, and French become anything other than White?
    It is nice to see the “African” listed first.
    “Finally, this is a reminder of why Black History Month is still necessary.” Amen to that.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 2, 2020 @ 7:37

      Remember, it’s about heritage, not history. Good to hear from you.

    • Ken Noe Feb 2, 2020 @ 10:00

      The “Indian” was a Federal Home Guard soldier in modern Oklahoma.

      • London John Feb 9, 2020 @ 2:31

        But as of course you know, there were in fact Confederate Native American units; there was a civil war within the Indian Nations. Native American groups were recruited as a whole and their chiefs commissioned as Confederate officers. Unlike the Confederacy, which just ceased to exist, these groups signed peace treaties with the US at the end of the CW which among other things granted their former slaves equal rights with Native Americans; I believe there’s some dispute over the position of the “Cherokee Freedmen” going on now. The fact that they couldn’t find a picture of a genuine Cherokee (or one of the other nations beginning with CH) Confederate soldier illustrates the general crapness of the SCV.

  • Jerry McKenzie Feb 1, 2020 @ 13:53

    “…it is what we were bred to do…” that sums it up for me.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 1, 2020 @ 13:55

      So many unfortunate comments in that video. Sigh.

  • Christopher Shelley Feb 1, 2020 @ 11:46

    Kevin, did you see Henry Louis Gates’ online conversation on teaching the Civil War the other day? I missed it, being at a committee meeting. I tried to go back and see if had any remarks on black Confederates, but I couldn’t find anything.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 1, 2020 @ 11:53

      A number of people contacted over twitter that they raised it with Gates during the webinar. I don’t know what was said and I’ve been unable to find the session archived anywhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *