Black History Month & ‘Civil War Memory’ (Part 1) by Bill Vallante

"There is indeed a certain childish willfulness in the American mind that insists on chastising the people of the past for not being like them, or else pretending that they were. Which is a certain way NOT to learn anything from history." —Dr. Clyde Wilson

Recently I sparred with a (white) neo-abolitionist blogger who had, in his daily rants, written a tribute to Martin Luther King. Flanking this tribute however were two “pot-shots” at General Lee, whose birthday comes at about the same time as King’s, and several pot-shots at the SCV.

I asked him why it was that he seemed unable to stay in his own little corner and have a good time celebrating something he sees as important without going over to someone else’s corner and poking fun at something that someone else considers important? “What is it”, I asked, “about you people that makes you so inclined to be pests?”

Needless to say, he did not appreciate my sarcasm. His response was as follows:

“First of all it is not "your corner" or anyone’s corner for that matter. It’s called American history and my blog’s theme focuses on the way in which Americans have chosen to remember their past. In large part and in reference to the Civil War this has involved highlighting an idealized Confederate past by ignoring the contributions of African Americans.”

I didn’t really expect the blogger, a transplanted yankee/liberal teacher now living in Virginia, to comprehend the philosophy of “live and let live”, so his failure to comprehend my analogy of staying in his own “corner” didn’t really surprise me. Besides, “Live and Let Live” has never been the liberal way.

What is significant however, is his reference to an “idealized Confederate past” and “ignoring the contributions of African Americans”. Contemporary (liberal) historians often describe this notion with the phrase, “Civil War Memory”, a phrase popularized by Amherst historian/professor David Blight. Blight and those like him maintain that our “memory” of the war is in error, and that the way Americans “remember” the war has left the African American out in the cold. Of course, Mr. Blight and company intend to remedy this situation. Remember the phrase because you’ll be hearing more and more of it as America draws closer to the 150th Anniversary of the “Civil War.

The last eight months have allowed me plenty of time for research however, and I submit that there is much in the neo-abolitionist memory that he or she has chosen NOT to remember, or to simply ignore.

Since “Black History Month” is once again upon us, I would like to take this time to reveal some of the history that our neo-abolitionist friends have apparently forgotten or tried to bury. The stories and excerpts that follow in this series are taken from the Slave Narratives, the Confederate Veteran Magazine, 1893-1912, the Southern Historical Society Papers, the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, and several books, some of which were written back in a time when much of this stuff was recent history. The stories include tributes to and remembrances of Black Confederates, not only soldiers and those in the military, but black southern civilians as well, a more critical look at the USCT, and a hard look at some of the flights of fancy that contemporary politically correct historians engage in – i.e., ‘Reconstruction’ as a Story of Social Progress.

Robert Penn Warren once wrote – “The Civil War is America’s ‘felt’ history – that is not to say that all Americans feel it in exactly the same way.” Apparently our neo-abolitionist friends don’t quite see it that way. It’s their way or the highway. I’m a believer in “live and let live” and I don’t like to rain on anyone else’s parade, but if that’s the way they want it, then let the games begin!

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