Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Guest Column by Mac Diva

The following was written by regular commenter Mac Diva:

Though I write of the neo-Confederate movement, it would just as accurate to use the plural. The infighting among neo-Confederates is of nearly as much interest as their offensive beliefs. Most assert an idealized version of the Civil War and its aftermath in which white Southerners fought to protect their homeland after it was invaded by the North under the leadership of the despotic President 'Ape-raham Lincoln.' According to them, slavery, which they insist is Biblically justified, played no part in the South's decision to withdraw from the Union. Nor were there any ill feelings between master and slave or former secessionist and freedman other than those engendered by Yankees, Scalawags and carpetbaggers. The group of neo-Confederates we are discussing today are in agreement with those tenets of the Cause, except for one aspect. They assert that the army of the secessionist South was racially integrated. No, I did not misstate that. According to these revisionists, a minority in the movement, black slaves joined their masters in fighting the bloody war against the Union, preferring continued slavery to the freedom conferred by the Emancipation Proclamation.

Mainstream historians disagree. They point out that the Southern states all stated the potential abolition of slavery as a main reason for leaving the Union. Confederate States of America Vice President Alexander Stephens explicitly said the Confederacy was not founded on the idea that all men are created equal:

"Those ideas [the position of Jefferson and other founding fathers that slavery was wrong and that hopefully it would die out], however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the 'storm came and the wind blew.'

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition."

(Cornerstone Speech, March 21, 1861)

However, a few white neo-Confederates, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and/or the League of the South, have succeeded in producing black neo-Confederates. The most recognized of these persons is H.K. Edgerton, a North Carolina man who marched across the South carrying the Confederate flag to raise money for white supremacist Kirk Lyon's legal foundation this fall. Edgerton's relationship with Lyon's began when he got in trouble while heading a local NAACP chapter in 1988. Not long after being photographed posing as a Klansman with Lyons and an associate, Edgerton began to work for Lyons, though it is uncertain whether he is actually paid wages.

(sources: here and here.

For more about Lyons, see here

Edgerton is considered an honorary member of the SCV. However, a few black individuals have been offered membership in the group. The situation of John Wayne Holland , detailed in this week's "Washington Post," is an example:

Willingly or not, the 17-year-old Creed Holland [J.W. Holland's ancestor] was sent by his master, William A. Holland [Hazel Holland Davis' forbear], to help the army in 1863. In 1925, with Holland's endorsement, he applied for and received a military disability pension from the state for his two years' war service as a teamster. Davis found that pension record as she worked on an application to enroll her property on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation it received in June. She shared her research with John Holland's brother William, who she knew had been researching his family history.

That led John, William and a third brother, Ben, to join the Sons last year. Their sister, Wanda, has joined the United Daughters of the Confederacy. According to John, none of them had known they had kin in the Civil War, nor had they known much about Creed Holland.

A white member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who has known Holland for 20 years says he recruited him to join. It is not clear from the "Post" article how much Holland understands about Civil War history or the goals and objectives of the the SCV, which has aligned itself with the League of the South during the last two years. The League supports secession from the United States by the South and the establishment of a Christian theocracy in which only white, Christian, property owning males would be allowed full citizenship rights, according to LOS leader Michael Hill.

Another African-American SCV supporter considers correcting the 'miseducation' of the next generation of school children his mission.

As part of Black History Month, the public library system in Norfolk, Va., is honoring African-Americans who fought and died on behalf of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Robert Harrison, director of the Horace Downing Branch library in Norfolk, said blacks are rarely portrayed as supporting the Confederacy because politically correct historians prefer to connect the South and the Confederate flag with the evils of slavery. But history tells another side of the story, he said.

Harrison said the Horace Downing Library will spend one day, Feb. 25, re-creating Civil War encampments and re-enacting the roles that blacks played on both sides of the battlefield. (On Feb. 13, the Barron F. Black Homework Center, part of the Norfolk Public Library system, will present a similar re-enactment.) The celebrations will include rifle and cannon salutes to black "fallen heroes."

He agrees with Southern heritage groups that the mainstream history of the Civil War and its aftermath is not 'balanced.'

Harrison said he has discovered "tons of passages and memoirs" that document Southern blacks' loyalty to the Confederacy prior to and after its demise. Yet almost 138 years later, he said, it's becoming increasingly difficult to convince modern blacks that their ancestors fought to preserve the South of their own free will.

A Virginia historian doubts any black men actually served as soldiers for the Confederacy in its capitol state:

"If you can show me that quotation where these units went into action, I'm sure I and the other historians throughout this country, throughout the world, will be very interested in it, because nobody's every seen it," says author, educator and historian Doctor E. Curtis Alexander.

Alexander says in Virginia, black units were only formed as the Civil War neared its end. He says noted historian James McPherson writes the black troops got no respect at the war's end.

"He talks about, 'Yes, they were in uniform between March 25th and April 9th, two units, and the only violence or action they saw was when they marched down Carey and 24th Streets in Richmond,'" says Alexander. "They were spat on and jeered."

Tarheel Rudolph Young says the study of genealogy led him to join the SCV:

Since 1993, Young has dug through Confederate pension rolls and identified 15 to 20 blacks from Lincoln, Gaston and Cleveland counties who aided the Confederacy in support roles. He's found hundreds more who are mentioned in the records, but not identified.

Young traces his ancestry to a slave who served as a cook for Confederate regiments. He was elected commander of Lincoln County [N.C.'s] Sons of Confederate Veterans in 2002, after joining the year before. Young left the SCV after white supremacist elements were successful in taking over.

Rudolph Young, Camp 1616, Lincolnton: Please add my name to the esteemed list of those compatriots who want to save the SCV from those who propose to turn our organization into something that our ancestors who fought that war never intended it to be. I am proud to stand with the likes of Charles Hawks, Walt Hilderman, and Gilbert Jones.

There is a smattering of other black neo-Confederates. One has been accused of fraudulently receiving funds from the SCV intended to pay black men to don Confederate gray and march with the group in a large commemorative parade. He was also barred from the campus of the University of Mississippi after continually getting in fights with students while parading there in his Confederate uniform carrying the Stars and Bars. Another, who travels with an SCV handler, has produced a film claiming to document the history of black Confederate soldiers. The most touted member, a physician from Texas, died last year.

What does this phenomenon mean? From the perspective of the African-Americans involved, it seems to me that this trend speaks mainly of the need of people, some more than others, to be included in something they perceive as larger than themselves. Being inducted as a member or treated as an honorary member of a longtime Southern institution such as the SCV must provide them with that feeling of belonging and significance.

There is next to no question that claims of significant numbers of blacks having served as troops for the Confederacy during the Civil War are apocryphal. The historical record is well-preserved. The black men who served Confederate units were slaves limited to menial tasks. So, why would some white men, mainly Southerners, claim otherwise a century and a half-later? I suspect it is an effort to make the neo-Confederate movement more fashionable. In a time of increasing emphasis on multiculturalism, colorizing the Confederate Army makes the neo-Confederate movement seems less the anachronism that it is. It should also be noted that only some 'newfangled' members support the effort to posthumously draft blacks and Indians* into the Confederate Army, so there will be current neo-Confederates of color. The leadership makes it clear that such equality was not practiced in the past and would not be practiced in the future if the movement were ever to achieve its goals.

*Some of the Cherokee did fight for the Confederacy.

White supremacists Kirk Lyons, left and Neill Payne, right pretend they are Klansmen along with Edgerton, who is giving the term handkerchief head whole new meaning.