The Sunday Question: Professional Historians and the Black Confederate Myth

Here’s the deal: I’m busy today, and I’ve already locked in my “part two” dealing with this issue for Monday.  So what do you think professional historians should do in response to the Black Confederate Myth?

Note: I’ll be out of touch with online access today, so it may be a while before your answers appear.  Hopefully I’ll have access in time to post your comments before my own answer appears Monday.

Meanwhile, Happy Father’s Day!

25 thoughts on “The Sunday Question: Professional Historians and the Black Confederate Myth

  1. Marc Ferguson June 19, 2011 / 5:54 am

    I think professional historians should counter the black Confederate myth on several fronts. Individual claims should be examined carefully, both in terms of the legitimacy and meaning of documents such as the excerpts from the ORs that are frequently splashed across the floor. They must be placed in a larger and understandable context and narrative. There is a pernicious and incorrect idea out there that primary documents “speak for themselves,” and that interpretation is nothing more than the meddling of politically correct historians inserting their own bias. I also agree that the story of how emancipation actually proceded, the actions and the experiences of slaves themselves must continue to be examined and told, along with that of black Union soldiers, so that there is a coherent and accessible narrative in place as bulwark against myths such as those being constructed to conceal the centrality of slavery, emancipation and race to the events and responses of the war.

    Another question is how professional historians, who primarily practice the craft through teaching, should respond to and treat the black Confederate myth. I think it can be used to teach skills in reading and interpreting documents, constructing narratives, and looking at such issues as how presentism can easily creep into historical (mis) understanding, especially when the focus and motivation becomes personal, family, or group heritage. That modern notions of who should be considered a soldier is one glaring example of this, as you have pointed out.

    Happy Father’s Day to you as well Brooks.

    • Marc Ferguson June 19, 2011 / 8:51 am

      I would include in my comments that the whole conceptualization of “black Confederate” also needs to be countered in terms of the issues of racial classification and self-identification, motivations, and understanding the true institutional roles and social and governmental forces that placed so many blacks, mostly slaves, with Confederate armies in labor support roles.

  2. Ray O'Hara June 19, 2011 / 6:12 am

    countering bad history is every bit as important as pushing good history.
    The BCM is a cancer that will grow and is growing if not dealt with.

  3. John Foskett June 19, 2011 / 8:05 am

    The BCM is out there, on the internet and elsewhere. Worst, it has surfaced in textbooks. Professional historians have an obligation to deal with it head-on. The notion that by doing so they are somehow “legitimizing” it strikes me as an excuse for focusing on areas of more academic interest. At bottom, my personal view is that if kids and others are being deceived into accepting the BCM – and, by extension, the implicit proposition that the War was not about slavery, etc. – historians are doing a disservice by acting as though the subject matter is beneath them.

  4. Al Mackey June 19, 2011 / 8:13 am

    Silence implies consent. If the BCM isn’t countered it becomes accepted as “fact.” Then it becomes, “Well, everyone knows … “

  5. Ric Ben-Safed June 19, 2011 / 8:16 am

    I think its a mistake for professional historians to remove themselves in their writings from the creative process as many seem so inclined. And as professional historians pronounced on an issue like “Black Confederates”, and labelling it all a ‘myth’, they need to think about this creative process and whether they are leaving their ‘professional neutral’ stance and taking on a bias ( un-necessary I think) on the civil war. And this is why , as they pronounce on the so called “myth” , they are ignoring a huge group of people who lived in the confederacy, the Black Americans. No, the professional historian cannot by any words he may say, separate all the black people living in south from the fact that they too are part of the southern and ‘confederate’ culture. The Black Americans then (same as whites), are just as apt to resist and fight against the foreigners (even though the foreigners are as White as their masters). Safety always preempts ‘politics and warfare’. The professional historian cannot testify that any number or degree of black participation in defense of themselves was only a “myth’. The bottom line of reality is that anyone who is attacked, or perceives themselves attacked will rise to the defense. That said, it was great military strategy by Lincoln to change the union’s into welcoming the former Black Slaves who had escaped into the U.S. Colored Trioops and encouraging southern Blacks to ‘flip’. Personally, I would doubt that Lincoln ever thought about the “Myth of the Black Confederates’. I will be interested in how Dr. Simpson handles this issue later.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 19, 2011 / 8:25 am

      Nice hypothesis. What evidence do you have to support your assertion?

      I think that it does African Americans a disservice to claim that they supported a movement that would result in their continued enslavement and the enslavement of their offspring. If you feel differently, you are free to bring to the table evidence in support of your assertion.

      • Al Mackey June 20, 2011 / 6:33 am

        I am in the process of reading Stephanie McCurry’s excellent _Confederate Reckoning,_ which details many ways enslaved and free black Southerners aided the Union in its fight against the confederacy.

    • Ray O'Hara June 19, 2011 / 8:45 am

      Living in the South and being a Confederate are completely different things.

  6. TF Smith June 19, 2011 / 10:37 am

    Professional historians should engage the BCM as public intellectuals and representatives of the academy in the same way that they should engage Holocaust revisionists, and for the same reasons –

    As Gerda Lerner put it:
    “What we do about history matters. The often repeated saying that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them has a lot of truth in it. But what are ‘the lessons of history’? The very attempt at definition furnishes ground for new conflicts. History is not a recipe book; past events are never replicated in the present in quite the same way.”

  7. Charles Lovejoy June 19, 2011 / 1:06 pm

    I think professional historians should do what you are doing. When an assertion is made about black confederates , offer a rebuttal. A blog like this is a great place for a discourse like this to take place. A place were the evidence can be analyzed and discussed. . Questions should be asked , questions as what exactly is meant by “Black Confederates” ? Combat troops? Slaves working as cooks and Teamsters? I have read many turn of the century obituaries in Georgia written by local papers regarding the passing of local blacks. I have seen some worded “a former slave” and ” He marched with Masser Robert “. I take the meaning as a slave that went to war with his master as some type of servant and not a solder. But somebody could put the spin as this person was a black solder in the service of the CSA. I think the subject needs to be analyzed and discussed., but I don’t think the rebuttal.of black confederate troops should merit a historical field in itself. 🙂

  8. Ric Ben-Safed June 19, 2011 / 1:47 pm

    ” it does African Americans a disservice to claim that they supported a movement that would result in their continued enslavement and the enslavement of their offspring.”

    I haven’t read anywhere that African Americans living in any of the Confederate states had an ‘organized movement” that could officially ‘support the CSA. I think the ‘quoted’ portion suggests that there was such an independent entity that had this choice. I can understand individual choices of protecting oneself, and family, but am not aware of any African American political force in the south that was against the Confederacy. Perhaps there was, an I am just not aware, so if you know I would appreciate being directed to that resource or publication.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 19, 2011 / 7:35 pm

      I assume you’ve heard of the United States Colored Troops. Taking up arms to assist in the freeing of your people by killing the people who want to keep them enslaved is about as political as it gets.

  9. Kgray June 19, 2011 / 5:20 pm

    I think the historic facts about Black Confederates isn’t some excersice in racism, but more of a romantic desire to show the “Sourthern Cause” was a united front of white and black people fighting for their “beloved” homeland. I’m I to believe that all slaves in the South were willing to perpetuate themselfs into slavery for the sake of their “beloved” homeland? Presenting the fact that black men served in the Confederate Army in a manner biased towards the “Southern Cause” influence a person into thinking that the Institution of Slavery was a minor social issue, instead of a major moral crime upon the life of an individual human being. I have no doubt that black men served in the Confederate Army. Why would a black man fight for the South? Money, promises of freedom, hatred of Yankees, even loyalty to the South, I don’t know the personnal motive. But the majority of black people in the South wanted their freedom. The issues may have been “States Rights” or “Perserve the Union”, but the root of the problem was always Slavery. The fact that Black Confederates existed, cannot justify slavery as a noble Institution

  10. Ric Ben-Safed June 19, 2011 / 8:06 pm

    How does the factual existence of Black Confederates, or those who fought with the Massa prove the assertion that this somehow justifies Slavery. (In the u.s. slavery was not abolished until passing of the 13th Amendment in 1868. The existence of Black Confederates proves itself, it doesn’t need additional explanations or suppositions about the ‘motives’. I hate professional historians who talk out of their field when they start psychologizing about the ‘motives’ of 3rd party’s to prove their historical theory. Practicing and professional Psychologists or Psychiatrists don’t try to promote ‘Histories”.. You Historians need to exercise a modicum of self-restraint. I haven’t found that kind of restraint on this blog.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 19, 2011 / 8:42 pm

      Ric, I have no idea what you’re talking about any more. It is amusing to see you preaching the gospel of restraint. But if you don’t like the blog, well, you can show some restraint and not read it or comment on it. 🙂 After all, we who have dealt with you across a number of forums see your “motive” rather clearly.

      BTW, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865. President Andrew Johnson declared the war at an end in 1866. Maybe you should stay in your field. 🙂

  11. Ric Ben-Safed June 20, 2011 / 2:59 am

    Brooks, Your suggestion that I should stay in my field, indicates to me, that you certainly got the idea of my posting well enough. Though you demurred. I know you haven’t been on my couch, nor have I been on yours. So its really laughable when professional Historians claim they know ‘the motives’ of any third party they happen to politically disagree. Its simple and direct, not to mention more honest to just say. I disagree with that premise. However I understand it may be more convenient not to do it . However, I will take your suggestion since its obvious that you have all the ‘received’ knowledge of History. Do try to stay out of Psychology though, it weakens your political Histories. Nice talking with you. Adieu.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 20, 2011 / 6:47 am

      Take care, Ric, Enjoy civilwarhistory2, where everyone spends a lot of time talking about this blog. Some seem afraid of it. Then there’s Helga Ross, who says everyone here agrees, which says little for her reading comprehension and less for her logic, because she’s commented here … although she seemed to fade away after I asked her to challenge her Gone With the Wind notions about Reconstruction with a little reading. I’m afraid that drove her back into the arms of the Lee worship cult. :). But she has more moxie than the Confederate cheerleaders and Lost Cause lackeys that hold forth there against more reasonable sorts.

  12. James F. Epperson June 20, 2011 / 4:38 am

    I think Al and Marc are pretty much on-target. I’ve made my comparison to the refusal of biologists to confront creationism often, but it is no less valid for being repeated: If you refuse to correct mythology, before long it ceases to be mythology with some folks.

  13. John Foskett June 20, 2011 / 6:28 am

    Ric: You’re talking in circles. Let’s start with the proposition that there were no “Black Confederates” because, after 150 years, none of the proponents of that concept have brought forward one verifiable document or photograph (from a war which produced countless records and photographs) showing that blacks volunteered and served in the Confederate armies. There is good reason for this, of course – the enlistment and arming of blacks would have been directly contrary to all of the pronuncements, etc. of the Confederate cause and its leadership. Why, then, do you think that the proponents continue to push it in the face of this overwhelming, and dispositive, absence of evidence? Go out on a mind-reading limb here…….

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 20, 2011 / 6:33 am

      Ric’s a professional who understands the wellsprings of human behavior and motivation. Just ask him. Better yet, catch his act on Mike Griffith’s new Yahoo Group. 🙂

      • Ray O'Hara June 20, 2011 / 7:50 am

        Oh, he’s THAT Ric.
        I had to unsubscribe. they are whatever it is they are and they are it to the maximum degree.

    • BorderRuffian June 23, 2011 / 9:46 am

      JF
      “Why, then, do you think that the proponents continue to push it in the face of this overwhelming, and dispositive, absence of evidence?”

      Because there is no absence of evidence.

  14. Ray O'Hara June 24, 2011 / 2:27 am

    Well then BR, where is the evidence?

  15. Ric Ben-Safed June 24, 2011 / 7:44 am

    I think Charles Lovejoy offered ‘evidence’ when he said: Quote: “I think professional historians should do what you are doing. When an assertion is made about black confederates , offer a rebuttal. A blog like this is a great place for a discourse like this to take place. A place were the evidence can be analyzed and discussed. . Questions should be asked , questions as what exactly is meant by “Black Confederates” ? Combat troops? Slaves working as cooks and Teamsters? I have read many turn of the century obituaries in Georgia written by local papers regarding the passing of local blacks. I have seen some worded “a former slave” and ” He marched with Masser Robert “. I take the meaning as a slave that went to war with his master as some type of servant and not a solder. But somebody could put the spin as this person was a black solder in the service of the CSA. I think the subject needs to be analyzed and discussed., but I don’t think the rebuttal.of black confederate troops should merit a historical field in itself.

    (Ric) What is the argument, the Black Confederates were an insignificant number in comparison with the U.S. Colored Troops, unless you are hit by one of those ‘insignificant’ bullets that render you dead…Then the shot was significant no? And is merely tagged with the other 620,000 Americans (White and Black ) who died in that bloody civil war.

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