I was greatly interested in Kevin Levin’s post yesterday about the planned event to honor two “black Confederates” (or is it slaves?) in North Carolina… especially since I was preparing a post addressing my concerns about the way “black Confederates,” in general, are being represented in remembrance events and “Confederate-friendly” published works.
I don’t know enough yet to say it is the case with the event in N.C., but it seems that, every time we turn around to read about the service of “black Confederates,” it is all too often being assumed or at least portrayed by those conducting the “honors” (or “recognizing” the service of “black Confederates” in other ways) that “black Confederates” largely wanted to be in the service of the Confederacy (in line with the “and all was right and good with the Confederacy” belief). By doing this, is the consistent portrayal just careless and irresponsible practice (historically-speaking) or is it a deliberate effort to persuade the general public of a “right and good Confederacy” and serve an agenda aimed at showing examples of how the Confederacy was not fighting for slavery? No matter what motivations may be behind a person or group in modern times, we should look at the service of black soldiers and servants/slaves, one person at a time; and when nothing conclusive can be found, it should not be a matter of “fill in the blanks to make it fit your agenda.” Likewise, when evidence can be found that reveals something about the motivations of the man – soldier, sailor, or slave/servant – it should not be represented, in discussion, published works, or remembrance activities, as “typical” or as representative of “many” others.
As Kevin points out, we know nothing about the two men who will soon be “honored” in N.C., other than the fact that someone has identified (labeled?) them as “black Confederates” (as I have said before, I think the use of this “label” by remembrance folks is a sloppy practice that sends a message that is incredibly misleading/generalizing). Kevin also points out that, as yet, we have no information as to the nature of the service of these two men who have been labeled as “black Confederates.” We have no idea whether they served in a unit or served a soldier in a unit. Whether soldiers or servants, what do we know about the service of these two men? What do we know about what their service meant to them (or more importantly, what it did not mean to them)? Is “remembrance” of their service going to reflect more assumptions than truths? Perhaps we will learn more as the event in North Carolina draws closer. However, what if, just because these men have been labeled by someone as “black Confederates,” the honors ride solely on minimal information found, perhaps, in pensions or service records?
I’ll be watching for more news of the event in North Carolina in the hopes that it is not yet another example of how acts of remembrance represent more assumptions and generalizations than an understanding of, and appreciation for the complexities.
(Let me make it clear here that I am not denying the fact that some African-Americans were on the rosters of some Confederate units. For those who may have forgotten or are unfamiliar with my work with Virginia rosters, allow me to direct you to the post in which I mentioned Pvt. Charles Brown, Co. K, 10th Virginia Infantry ).