The Black Confederate Myth Just Won’t Go Away

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.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

4 comments… add one
  • Yulanda Burgess Jan 12, 2022 @ 13:25

    Thanks for sharing this article. I’ve been sleeping over my research and historical enlightenment only to wake up to this issue. Nice article. One of the best I’ve read about these “BCTEs.” I’m awake now and contribute the following:

    I can’t sigh and roll my eyes at these “black confederate” tombstone events (BCTEs). We have new arm-chair genealogist and historians (with no mindful historical context) who are getting newspaper article hits regarding their ancestor participating at a confederate reunion, were “faithful” to their confederate owners, were confederate soldiers etc, etc and… etc. The covid-lock downs are contributing to a new group of people finding those aged-worn “black-confederate” claims. Another round of public awareness is needed.

    I sent the Montgomery Advertiser article to the president of my local African American genealogical organization hoping that he will be distributed it to the membership. It included my statement: “As African Americans we sometimes crave to have our ancestors acknowledged. Our ancestors were written out of history and we continue our journey to have them recognized. However, when that recognition is wrapped in purposeful misinformation, it becomes detrimental to the honor we are trying to bestow upon them. Nothing is more monumental to that misinformation than the false claim that thousands of black men, women and children were enlisted in the Confederate Army as soldiers.” I told them to beware when neo-confederates and Confederate heritage organizations come knocking at their doors.

    Ms. Bostick caused this latest chapter to happen. She opened that door. She did not stop her effort when the VA rejected her petition for headstones. The article does not indicate her continued effort to locate descendants of these three men. She said who was she to stand in the way. In the back of my mind, I think the SCV would have placed the headstones even if she had objected or stood in the way. Nothing is beyond the SCV and neo-confederate groups. P-u-l-a-s-k-i.

    There is a need for more people to stand in the way of these confederate groups who claim that thousands of black people fought as enlisted and mustered in soldiers. The claimed “black confederate” numbers are surpassing the USCTs. It begins with more proactive efforts of informing people (novice historians and genealogist) about the true history of African Americans in the American Civil War. It is the omission of our K-12 educational legacy that African Americans role in the Civil War is paragraphed. Comprehending the research that is uncovered is vital. Learning to analyze primary and secondary documents is vital. Most important, people should be beware of neo-confederates and Confederate heritage organizations when they come knocking at their doors and stand in their way.

    -Yulanda

    • Kevin Levin Jan 13, 2022 @ 6:22

      Hi Yulanda,

      I am glad to hear you saw the article and forwarded it to your genealogical association. I agree 100% with your statement. It’s incredibly frustrating, but I agree that for many African Americans it comes out of a sincere desire to see their ancestors acknowledged and even honored. Let me know if there is anything else I can do to help.

  • Andy Hall Dec 5, 2021 @ 20:46

    Don’t forget the faux cemetery in Pulaski, Tennessee, with headstones naming 20 or so Black men, not one of whom is actually buried there. It’s almost as if the SCV in Pulaski was trying to over-correct for some infamous event in the town’s past.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 6, 2021 @ 3:33

      Thanks for the reminder.

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