Last week I posted a simple challenge: find an African American who advocated secession in the winter of 1860-61. I did not specify the status (free or enslaved) of the individual. It seemed to me to be something anyone could understand.
There was some fruitful speculation about where to look, most notably the free black communities of New Orleans and Charleston. I would not be surprised if someone identified a free black who supported secession in those areas, but so far no one’s stepped forward with evidence that such was the case. It would be somewhat more challenging to find a slave who expressed support for secession, although I’ve been surprised that no one has taken up the challenge and presented a letter or a recollection from a southern white making that claim.
It appears that some people have a problem understanding secession in the first place. The secession of the first seven states that eventually formed the initial Confederacy preceded the formation of the Confederacy, so support for the Confederacy is not the same as support for secession. Nor does it make any sense for folks to cite the usual claims about black Confederate military service in 1861 … because, after all, the initial wave of secession happened before the war commenced (many people who opposed secession or had reservations about it nevertheless served in the Confederate army). Indeed, one could look for African American voices and sentiments advocating secession in the eight slave states (and dear old New Jersey) that did not initially support secession (including the four that joined the Confederacy in 1861), but, again, no one has cited a single advocate of secession who was African American.
This did not stop the people at the gift that keeps on giving from struggling with this question (and I knew they would struggle with it). Some cited reports of military service, which, as we’ve seen, is not the same thing as supporting secession in the winter of 1860-61 (these people might want to take a course in the timeline of events). Some tried to dodge or deny the premise of the post as a way to avoid responding to the challenge. Others went off on irrelevant tangents. One poster decided that in mentioning Frederick Douglass I must be playing the race card, which suggests that someone’s not playing with a full deck. Most amusing was when one fellow decided that the person who reposted my challenge over there was a spy … might in fact, be me (this person has never been very bright). That did a wonderful job of derailing the conversation even as it showed that I live rent free in the heads of several people over there (I assume hearings will follow … “are you now, or have you ever been, Brooks Simpson?”).
Some forty-five posts later, not a single person had responded to the challenge. No one had identified a black secessionist. You would think that if blacks supported the cause for southern independence as some of these folks believe they did, that they could find a single person who professed support for secession, which, after all, was a necessary precondition to southern independence.
For others, the search continues. For these folks, the search has yet to begin. Perhaps even such a simple challenge is beyond their admittedly questionable research skills and problematic exercises in historical reasoning and critical thinking. Others have highlighted that shortcoming before. I have no doubt that such may well be the case, but I would add that some folks simply don’t have the heart, the mind, the ability, or the interest in subjecting what they believe to critical examination. They aren’t interested in history so much as they are interested in looking to history to support their notions of personal identity and philosophy. Their interest in “heritage” has little to do with honoring the past and much more to do with supporting their own present day needs, desires, and beliefs.
So be it. I thank them for making that so evident. Sometimes it’s amusing (one commenter compared their discussions to what went on during the television show “Hee Haw” … that’s just fine and dandy). Sometimes it’s sad to see that people interested in understanding southern heritage and paying due respect to their ancestors and the history of their region allow such folks to claim to speak for them, but that’s not my problem. For me, it’s still the gift that keeps on giving … although I should add that I don’t see most members of the group as representing anything other than their own misguided selves, because otherwise it would be too easy (and very mean and unfair) to ridicule southerners by claiming that these folks are representative of the southern people.
I know better. So should you. They don’t know any better.