Re: Blacks and the Confederacy: an incomplete story
Here’s a woman with an agenda getting advice from a so-called "expert" who also has an agenda. Is it a case of the blind leading the blind? Or a case of one bag of wind leading another?
Ms. Baye
Whatever you do, do not consider your research on "Black Confederates" concluded simply because you have spoken with Kevin Levin. To Levin, as is the case with most people who have the "Yankee" mindset, the idea of a black man being able to make a choice or decision without their help is simply more than they can bear. And the idea of a black man turning down the "advances" of the Union army and showing preference for his own region and people is too painful for them to even contemplate. In their minds, there had to have been an alternate explanation for such behavior. The explanations they choose vary from "coercion" to "they didn’t know any better" to the "Stockholm Syndrome," to “those lying Neo-Confederates made it all up!?” Yankees have never dealt well with rejection – they tend to get a bit testy when rebuffed and their behavior in this regard is well documented in the history books. After all, when rejected by the South, they launched an invasion which cost over 600,000 lives.
What constitutes a "Black Confederate?" There is no pat definition. My own understanding of the term is that it represents a black person who supported the South, be they civilian, military support personnel, or soldier. Most black men, both free and slave, who served in the Confederate forces, performed support-role duties. In reading the “Slave Narratives,” a project which took nearly a year, few "servants" complained that they were coerced. And more than a few expressed positive views toward their service.  That “service” is celebrated in some locales even today.
Some functioned as soldiers, though few in number.
Some walked a fine line between "soldier" and "servant"
Many of them suffered the same privations the white soldiers did
Some of them expressed the same angry sentiments as their white comrades did regarding a Northern invasion of their homeland
Some of them actually expressed pride in their Southern-ness
For some, their service wasn’t a matter of liking or disliking, it was simply a part of their duty. And they performed that duty honorably, albeit with some mixed feelings. Those "mixed feelings" do not prove coercion however. All those mixed feelings prove is that life is not at all simple, something that we all learn as we get older, and perhaps wiser.
Many of these men joined the United Confederate Veterans after the war and attended the reunions of that organization religiously.
And while the designation "faithful slave" might rankle some today, it is imperative to understand the world of the past through the eyes of the people who lived in it, not through our eyes. Despite the differences between our world and their world however, there are some things which are revered in any world, in any place, at any time…. like, “fidelity.”
“The basic action of the legislature of the State of Mississippi in distributing pension to Confederate soldiers and servants was to honor fidelity to the cause of the Confederacy by whosoever, regardless of race or color; so as to inscribe in the history of the state a lasting memorial to the men who fought, bled and suffered for the cause. Fidelity was the keynote; Fidelity was the watchword – a principle which has actuated man from the dawn of civilization… It is honored in every shape and form the world over…. “ (From the Natchez Mississippi Democrat, December 23, 1923)
As far as "coercion" goes, please keep in mind that not every Southern black man (or woman) ran TOWARD the Union army.
To be sure, there was coercion on both sides – but that coercion came as much from the Northern side as the Southern side, perhaps more so, something that folks like Levin don’t care to mention.
Next – regarding Confederate Organizations like the UDC, or as in my case, the SCV (Sons of Confederate Veterans) – Each organization has qualifications for membership. The qualifications include being able to trace one’s ancestry to someone who served in the Confederate armed forces. In the case of the SCV, individual camps also allow for or adopt “associate members” such as myself. These are people who have Southern sympathies and who have an overriding interest in the period but cannot prove ancestry. There are no racial qualifications, if that’s what you were looking for. Black folks have always been welcomed in both organizations and the SCV has both full black members as well as black associates. Neither organization has an “ethnicity box” to be checked on its application and neither organization’s central headquarters has any idea how many black members its organization has nationwide, nor is such a thing of great importance. Black folks have always been welcome, and in the case of the SCV, its predecessor, which was the UCV (United Confederate Veterans), always had black men in attendance at its reunions and conventions.
Next, as per your innuendos about perpetuating “evil”, “the dirty business” and perpetuating “bondage,” – if you feel a crying need to hurl guilt at a people who are no longer alive to defend themselves, then I submit you need to hurl a fair share at the Africans, as well as the Yankees, both of whom profited mightily from the trans-Atlantic slave trade. I would ask however, what’s the point in doing that? What is the point in condemning people who acted according to the standards of their time and who are long dead and no longer available to defend themselves – unless your goal is simply to put on a public display of your self-righteous angst, and thereby garner sympathy from your readers? (which I think just might be the case!). I submit then that you reflect on the following:
"All we owe the people of the past is to look at them in the context of their own time, not in the context of our time. They, like us, fell out of the womb into an already-existing society with already-existing beliefs and institutions. Like us, they had no choice but to play the cards God dealt them. It’s our play now, and the pot is the future."
Finally, the "silent auction" you mentioned is nothing more than a fund raising event. But you knew that. When someone says the word "auction" these days, people do not usually think of a "slave" auction. For you to throw that comment in at the end of your article qualifies as a cheap shot at best, since you failed to inform your readers of what the "silent auction" in question really is. There is no “irony” here, and no need for anyone to strike the word "auction" from the English language to assuage your (or anyone else’s) sensibilities. I submit that if you were so incensed over anything that pertained to slavery that you would petition to close down the "Slavery Museum" in Fredericksburg, since its entire presentation revolves around that institution. Further, you would not refer to yourself as "African" – American, since Africans were, and indeed still are, the world’s most prodigious practitioners of slavery. 14 million Africans could not have been transferred to the Western Hemisphere over a 300 year period without the help and complicity of other "Africans." Or were you not aware of this fact?
I’m not sure what your point was in writing the article or even what you were looking for when you called up the UDC or why they even sent you an invitation. What I do know is this – that if you had accepted the UDC invitation, you would have been graciously and warmly received. In the end, it’s your loss! Whatever your intent was, I do at least hope that I’ve given you a somewhat different perspective than the one Levin gave you.
Bill Vallante
Commack NY
SCV Camps 3000, 1506, 1369, (Associate Member)