Last week the Montgomery Advertiser published an article about a ceremony in Gadsden intended to honor two supposed Black Confederate soldiers. Hadley Hitson did an excellent job researching and writing about this event and I am pleased that she contacted me for comment.
We’ve seen this story before. Local African-American woman hopes to identify ancestors buried in a local cemetery. Evidence suggests that a few of those buried may have been attached somehow to the Confederate army during the Civil War. All the available evidence suggests that they were present as body servants or camp slaves. Local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) gets wind of it and co-opts the stories to advance the Black Confederate myth.
In 2004, the SCV in Petersburg, Virginia began an annual commemoration of Richard Poplar in Blandford Cemetery. A couple years later, in 2008, the SCV in NC held a military funeral for Weary Clyburn with the full support of his daughter, Mattie Rice Clyburn. Following MRC’s death in 2014 the SCV led a funeral service recognizing her as a Daughter of the Confederacy. I write about all of this in Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth.
These incidents are now few and far between. Still, it’s always disheartening to see it play out in a way that involves someone whose motives are sincere and worthy of support. Hopefully, this story will help to correct the historical record around the individuals buried in the cemetery and lead to a more truthful commemoration–one that recognizes their legal status and the Confederacy for what it was.