It seems that another academic historian is about to enter the fray on the subject of black Confederates. Tomorrow John Stauffer, Professor of English and American Literature and Language and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, will speak on “Black Confederates in History and Myth.” Kevin Levin, who alerted me to this presentation, has blogged about it and will be present. Here’s the abstract for the talk:
“Black Confederates” is one of the most controversial ideas of the Civil War era and American memory more generally. Today, neo-Confederates claim that thousands of blacks loyally fought as soldiers for the South and that hundreds of thousands more served the Confederacy as laborers. These claims have become a staple among Southern heritage groups and are taught in some Southern schools. Their function is to purge the Confederacy from its association with slavery and redeem the white South from guilt over its past. In this they have been partly successful: according to a recent poll, 70% of white Southerners continue to believe that the Confederacy was motivated by states rights rather than slavery.
Academic historians, in reaction to these claims, have totally dismissed the idea that more than a handful of African Americans could have served as Confederate soldiers. To suggest otherwise, they say, is to engage in “a pattern of distortion, deception, and deceit” in the use of evidence.
But according to African Americans themselves, writing during the war, thousands of blacks did fight as soldiers for the South. In my presentation, I assess and contextualize the sources, examine case studies of blacks fighting for the Confederacy, and explain how and why it happened and how Northern black leaders understood this phenomenon. Along the way I reveal the richly diverse ways in which blacks acted on their understandings of freedom.
Gee, a pattern of distortion, deception, and deceit … where have I heard that before?
I’ll be curious to hear Kevin’s report on the lecture. In the meantime, I’ll note that once more blogging historians have sparked a discussion by perfectly respectable scholars on an issue of such interest that they even talk about it at Harvard.
And they might even be wrong.