Did slaves fight for the Confederacy?

By Davon Gray
Published: October 25, 2010

Joy Masoff wants you to believe the unthinkable.

She wants you to believe that slaves fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

More importantly, she wants your fourth-grade children to believe it, as well.

Here in Virginia, it seems the state educational powers-that-be have been legitimizing Masoff’s desire by allowing her book, “Our Virginia: Past and Present,” to be read by fourth-grade students.

In the book, Masoff claims thousands of black soldiers fought for the Confederacy. Most historians refute this as a claim made by Confederacy sympathizers such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Incidentally, Masoff admitted that much of her research for the book came from Internet sources linked to that group.

The section about black Confederates was brought to public attention by historian Carol Sheriff of the College of William & Mary. She happened to be looking through her daughter’s copy of Masoff’s book.

The Virginia Department of Education didn’t even know the part about black Confederate soldiers was in the book.

One of the department’s spokespersons had this to say about how the book got to classrooms: “Just because a book is approved doesn’t mean the Department of Education endorses every sentence.”

Please tell me it couldn’t be that easy.

Considering this book, like all others, is approved by a vetting process to include teachers and textbook experts, statements like that aren’t reassuring. Especially since just about everything these kids learn ends up on a Standards of Learning exam.

But despite the need for tighter vetting, there’s a more important point to make about Masoff’s book.

Schools and textbooks are not laboratories for redefining truth based upon unfounded theories and ideas.

Despite knowing her facts came from a controversial source at best, Masoff stands by what she wrote. And that’s even though there are no reputable historians, outside the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who will stand with her.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s just say somehow her book was true.

Let’s just say a few slaves did fight on the side of the Confederacy, or perhaps as she claims, thousands did.

Does it change the outcome of the war?

Does it change the brutality that is far more associated with the relationship between black slaves and their masters? Is it as though somehow the Confederacy and the institution of slavery as a whole got a bad rap?

I think not.

Make no mistake about it.  When given the chance to be free, slaves wanted to be free. If that wasn’t the case, there would have never been a need for an Underground Railroad or the thousands of attempts by slaves to run away. There wouldn’t have been acts of intimidation like castrations, the cutting off of limbs and hangings to convince slaves a runaway attempt was too risky.

No, Masoff might be selling a warmer and fuzzier Confederacy, but I’m not buying it.

And, more importantly, our kids shouldn’t be learning it, either.

There’s nothing wrong with preserving the heritage of the Confederacy and those who fought for it. Men like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and other prominent figures were tremendous leaders.

But the truth about the war and all it stood for must be told: the good, the bad and the ugly — as long as it’s all true.

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On The Web:  http://www2.insidenova.com/news/2010/oct/25/gray-column-did-slaves-fight-confederacy-ar-584913/