John Stauffer Enters the Black Confederate Fray

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.


13 thoughts on “John Stauffer Enters the Black Confederate Fray

  1. Mike Furlan August 30, 2011 / 2:27 pm

    “Gee, a pattern of distortion, deception, and deceit. . .”

    Why change, it has been working.

    70% of White Southerners agree, and at least 70% of the rest of the country can’t tell them why they are wrong.

  2. Donald R. Shaffer August 30, 2011 / 2:41 pm

    Hi Brooks. This is the same person Vikki Bynum has had trouble with. See her blog entry for Nov. 15, 2009 on Renegade South: How this guy wormed his way into Harvard is beyond me. If his “scholarship” on black Confederates is anything like his work on the Kingdom of Jones this ought to get interesting.


  3. Ray O'Hara August 30, 2011 / 4:44 pm

    “Free and open to the public” I might just head over to listen. Harvard is only a 25 minute drive, hmmm lecture, or Sox-Yanks.

  4. Tony Gunter August 31, 2011 / 6:04 am

    My first thought when I heard a second book would hit the presses on the Free State of Jones was “WTF.” Bynum’s book was so exhaustive I could not imagine any reason for a second book to follow so quickly.

    I thought it was funny that he defended his work by calling the reviewer a “presentist.” He also should have called him a “factist.”

  5. Roger E Watson August 31, 2011 / 2:06 pm

    “….they say, is to engage in “a pattern of distortion, deception, and deceit” in the use of evidence.”

    At lease he gave you credit….. 😉

    • Brooks D. Simpson August 31, 2011 / 2:09 pm

      Nor does he actually take issue with the evidence offered in that blog entry. Look at it this way: now the blog’s being quoted at Hah-vard. 🙂

  6. Mike Furlan August 31, 2011 / 3:13 pm


    “. . .when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts . . .they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”

    Most people are just going to hear “Blah, Blah, Blah, Black Confederates” and assume there must have been Black Confederates. Those proponents of Black Confederates who actually do take the time to absorb all the facts will still come away even more convinced of the existence of Slaves fighting for Slavery.

    I find the topic personally interesting, but I have gradually become resigned to ever see the advancement of historical knowledge. In my opinion, no substantial progress has been made since Wiley’s “Southern Negroes” in 1938. And now that we have a Secessionist as the leading candidate for President for one of the two major political parties, I suspect that there will be a retrograde movment.

  7. Tony Gunter September 1, 2011 / 8:05 am

    I’m not sold on Perry, but you can’t call him a secessionist simply because he dodged a question by a loon at a town-hall meeting.

  8. Mike Furlan September 1, 2011 / 4:00 pm

    Sounds like he is threatening secession to me:

  9. Ray O'Hara September 1, 2011 / 4:26 pm

    Tony from 2009
    ““When we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation,” the governor can be heard saying. “And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”

    Read more:

    also Perry has a Romneyesque trait in that he is for what ever his audience is for.

  10. Mike Furlan September 2, 2011 / 8:50 am

    Perry talks like a gangster.

    “Nice country you have there, too bad if something should happen to it.”

    See, he thinks we have a nice country, and is expressing concern that nothing bad happens to it. Nothing objectionable, right?

    • Brooks D. Simpson September 2, 2011 / 9:01 am

      Okay, guys, enough commentary on present-day politics. That particular line of commentary is closed.

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