Submitted to the Post and Courier, The State, Goose Creek Gazette, Summerville Journal Scene, and the Charleston City Paper newspapers. As expected, no response. – BLM
Some Black History Continues To Be Neglected
Brian Lee Merrill
Another observance of Black History Month has come and gone in Charleston. In all major venues the legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Tuskegee Airmen, the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry, and George Washington Carver have been heralded to the public with reverence. Sadly, there seems to be little place for the whole story of Confederate soldiers, sailors, and citizens of Color. In the very few instances where mention of these men and women might be made, there is always some "damage control" statement factored in that directly contradicts documented history: "They were forced to fight," "They are a myth," "There may have been a couple."
The fact is that thousands of Blacks fought with and supported the Confederate military, and most did so willingly. Some of these patriots fought and worked in defense of Charleston. Sources such as the Slave Narratives and the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion attest to it. One visitor to the city made contemporary mention of "the Negroes grinning from ear to ear at the thought of killing Yankees." John Wilson Buckner of Charleston was enlisted as a private in the 1st South Carolina Heavy Artillery. He was wounded defending Battery Wagner against the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry. Tom Arch and John McKinley received Confederate Pensions from the state of South Carolina in 1923, not as "laborers" or "impressed slaves," but as "combatants" in Charleston with their service verified by their White ex-comrades-in-arms. A singing group calling themselves the "Ethiopian Serenaders" gave concerts in the city to raise money for the Confederate war effort. High society free Black and Mulatto families gave special balls for the same purpose. Even the slaves in the area answered the call for naval protection of Charleston Harbor by willingly contributing their earnings to the building of the ironclads CSS Palmetto State and CSS Chicora. Records show that at least three of the crew of the CSS Chicora were Black. It is even very strongly speculated by continually mounting evidence that Absolum Williams, a member of the first H L Hunley crew, was a Black man.
So where is the honor and reverence of these Black Charlestonians during Black History Month? Where are the newspaper articles educating the public about their contributions, their bravery, and their sacrifice? Where are the short television spots with their historical tidbits during commercial breaks? Where are the informational displays at the front of major department stores during February in the Charleston area? Where are the mentions of gratitude regarding their service by local politicians? Where are the public workshops to tell their stories? Where are the ceremonies and celebrations metropolitan area wide in their honor? Where are their parades, marches, and rallies? Where are their memorials of stone and bronze in the city? Where even is their simple acknowledgment?
These Black Charlestonians have been pushed into the closet because their legacies do not compliment politically correct ideals. They do not advance the cause of self-proclaimed leaders of the Black community. Their memory must be sacrificed, and thereby they must be dishonored, because popularly accepted revisionist history says it must be so.
Regardless of this tragic situation, they did exist. Documented references yell it from the highest rooftop when one takes on the noble chore of studying factual history and not the Union recruitment poster version of it. Masquerading the propaganda of spins, misconceptions, unwarranted bias, and outright lies may mostly work to cloak these men and women from the public eye, but it does not make it historical truth.
It is too bad that the city of Charleston is not as honorable in this regard as the city and county of Darlington. Members of the city and county councils approved, supported, and participated in two Confederate honor ceremonies and the raising of the regimental flag of the 21st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry at the graveside of Henry "Dad" Brown, a Darlington Black Confederate. Henry was a free Black man who willingly served variously in the 1st, 8th, and 21st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry units during the War Between the States. He served from beginning to end in a multitude of capacities including musician and drummed the final roll to furl his regiment’s colors at Appomattox Courthouse for the last time. After the war he remained loyal to his ex-comrades-in-arms and never missed a chance to show off his "captured Yankee drumsticks" at United Confederate Veterans reunions. When Henry died, the largest funeral in Darlington was held in his honor with a funeral procession consisting of thousands of White and Black citizens and dignitaries. He was given a 21 gun salute by the all-White Darlington Guards, of which he was an honorary member. A 15 foot obelisk monument marks the spot where Henry rests in peace, bought and erected by the citizens of Darlington.
Darlington’s residents know who Henry Brown was and cherish his memory. His grave is presently located in a predominately Black neighborhood, and many turned out to pay their respects to their Black Confederate during the ceremonies. In the words of Darlington County Councilwoman Wilhelmina Johnson, "Henry Brown was a shining example of a citizen of this community, and he continues to teach us this lesson today. Even 100 years after he passed, he still managed to bring us all here together in mutual respect." State Senator Kay Patterson proclaimed, "Henry and I may have marched to a different drum, but we would have marched together." Many more statements of respect and reverence came from Confederate reenactors, Black and White, and other dignitaries such as State Senator Glenn McConnell and Darlington Mayor Ronnie Ward. The local media was in full force and provided their viewers and readers with wonderfully positive coverage of the events.
Perhaps next year at this time, Charleston will follow the examples of Darlington and Henry Brown. Just maybe the city’s advocates of Black History Month will open the doors and let the Black Confederate out to "bring us together in mutual respect" as Henry Brown does. Hopefully, historical truth will shine a beacon on the sacrifices of these Charlestonians of Color that gave their all in defense of their city. Maybe we can "march together" at those rallies, parades, and marches in their honor. And we will all be the better for it.
Brian Lee Merrill is a born and raised resident of the South Carolina Lowcountry. He is a Corporal in the 37th Texas Cavalry, a multiethnic gathering of historians and reenactors whose goal is research, documentation, and recognition of Confederates of Color and foreign birth. The 37th website consists of 100+ pages of fully referenced documentation and is considered the focal point for research on these "Forgotten Confederates" on the web. Please visit the 37th at www.37thtexas.org. Brian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.