Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Steve Perry and “Uncle Steve Eberhart”

Posted in African Americans, Memory by Andy Hall on November 11, 2011


Steve Perry, a.k.a. “Uncle Steve Eberhart,” c. 1934.

As many readers will know, African Americans were a fairly common sight at Confederate soldiers’ reunions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, some view photographs from these reunions as evidence that the black men shown were considered full and equal soldiers by the white veterans. While there was undoubtedly plenty of reminiscing and genuine bonhomie between the white and black men at such events, a closer look at contemporary descriptions from the time reveals that there were crucial differences in the way each group was viewed and treated that subtly but firmly reinforced the long-established racial order in the South. Simply put, even after the passage of forty, fifty or sixty years, former slaves and body servants were still expected to keep their place and defer to the attitudes that prevailed in the Jim Crow South.

Warning: The following includes extensive historical quotes that use offensive language and themes.

Steve Perry (better known now as “Uncle” Steve Eberhart) was something of a minor celebrity at Confederate reunions in the early 1920s. He attended numerous reunions over the course of 20 years or so, where appeared in a tall, feathered stovepipe hat, carrying live hens and a brightly-colored sash embroidered “ROME, GA,” and tiny U.S. and Confederate flags pinned to his shoulder boards. He was also well-known in his hometown of Rome, Georgia, so much so that a history of Rome and Floyd County published about that time includes no fewer than three short articles about him, and two photos including one (right) in a montage of “Old time darkies with their ‘habits on’,” images of local African Americans wearing distinctive dress.[1] Eberhart’s costume is described there as being in a “fowl escapade.” His image also appeared on the dust jacket, where he is captioned as “mascot of Floyd County Camp 368 of Confederate Veterans.”

Perry – more about his name later – was born in Georgia, possibly Oglethorpe County, probably sometime between 1845 and 1850.[2] His ancestry was reportedly from the West African area of present-day Senegal and Gambia, [3] although he always claimed both his parents were born in Georgia, like himself. He was a slave who, probably still in his late teens, went off to war as a body servant to his master, Pvt. P. S. Eberhart of Tiller’s Company, Georgia Light Artillery; decades later, Steve Perry wore a uniform with red artillery trim at Confederate reunions. Private Eberhart enlisted in March 1863 at Lexington, Georgia, and was paroled at the end of the war near Goldsboro, North Carolina at the end of April 1865.[4] Perry later claimed he’d been present at several major actions spanning the war in the East, from First Manassas in 1861 to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in 1865,[5] but that seems unlikely if he was, indeed, body servant to Pvt. Eberhart. Whatever the specifics of his time with the army, all sources agree that Steve Perry was a personal servant to a Confederate soldier.

After the war, Perry returned to Georgia and continued to work as a servant to the Eberharts for several years. By 1870, though, Perry was living in Athens, Georgia, where he was working as a domestic servant. He lived in a large hotel or boarding house operated by one Benjamin Wharton, whose tenants included a diverse group of white couples and single men of differing professions – university professor, minister, grocer, telegraph operator, attorney – as well as a large group of African American domestic servants – the latter group presumably in the employ of the former.[6]

Around this time, Perry also served for a period as valet to the young Henry W. Grady (1850-1889), while the latter was a student at the University of Georgia. Grady, later known as the “Spokesman of the New South,” became a prominent newspaper editor of several papers, including the Atlanta Constitution. Grady pushed for greater Northern industrial investment in the South, and played a prominent role in securing John Brown Gordon’s election as Georgia’ governor in 1886. Grady’s success in luring Northern investment in Georgia was based, in part, on projecting an image of harmonious relations between the races, but Grady himself was clear about the relative positions of whites and blacks, noting not long before his death that “the supremacy of the white race of the South must be maintained forever, and the domination of the negro race resisted at all points and at all hazards, because the white race is the superior race…”[7]

In about 1873, he married an African American woman named Myra (or Mira), age about 18. They would go on to have at least three children – Annie, born in April 1886, Paul, born about 1904, and a third child of unknown sex and birthdate, who died sometime before 1900.[8]

I’ve been unable to locate Perry in the 1880 U.S. Census, and the 1890 U.S. Census was lost to fire. In 1900 he and Myra were still living in Athens, where he was working as a white-washer. Steve was unlettered, but Myra is listed in the census of that year as being able to read. Living with them was their daughter Annie, age 14. Although Annie was listed as not attending school, she is recorded as being able to read and write. Sometime soon after 1900, the Perrys relocated to Rome.[9]

At the time of the 1910 census, Steve and Myra Perry were living in Rome’s 5th Ward. Steve, now aged 63, continued to work as a white-washer, while Myra and Annie, ages given as 49 and 23 respetively, work as laundresses. Young Paul, age six, is already shown to be able to read and write. Living with the family as well is a niece, Katie Lee, age 14, whose role is described as “helper.” Katie is also shown as being able to read and write.[10] By 1920, Steve and Myra Perry were living alone, with their ages listed as 70 and 60 respectively, with his occupation listed as “laborer” and “white washer.”[11]

I have not found an entry for Perry in the 1930 U.S. Census, but it seems likely he was still living in Rome. In the spring of 1929 he had given an interview to Hilliard H. Wimpee of the Atlanta Constitution, ostensibly on the occasion of his 100th birthday. (His probable age at the time would have been in his early 80s.) The article suggests an elderly man in relatively good health, and includes the usual tropes common to such stories. It noted that, “for the edification of his numerous friends [he] danced an old time jig and then indulged in a walk of more than five miles from his home into town and back.” Such walks were the key to his supposed longevity, the article went on. “Plenty of pure water and spiritous intoxicants only before retiring [and] in limited portions have enabled him to reach the century mark, he aserted [sic.]. Perry “indulges in ‘chawing’ tobacco, and an occasional cigar. He has never smoked a cigarette.”[12]

Steve Perry may have died at the end of June 1936, as there is an entry for Floyd County, Georgia for a “Steva E. Perry” indexed in the Ancestry.com database, the first name of which entry may be a transcription error.[13] If this entry does reflect Perry’s death, he would have been in his late 80s. Unfortunately I have not been able to confirm this is actually Perry, as the entry does not include sex, age or race fields. If it is the same man, the middle initial E may refer to Eberhart, although this is the only public record I’ve found that reflects a middle initial all – everywhere else he is simply Steve, or Stephen, Perry.

African Americans often participated in reunions of Confederate veterans. Although their numbers were few compared to white veterans, many large gatherings had a few elderly black men in attendance. As I’ve discussed previously, contemporary accounts of these event make it clear that they were attending as former slaves and servants of the white veterans. They often attended explicitly under the patronage of their former masters, and there were subtle but important distinctions drawn between the former soldiers and their former servants in the events. At reunions of the famed Terry’s Rangers, for example, Crock Davis was only “an interested and quiet spectator at all sessions” of the group, and “in the [formal] banquet he was not overlooked, but served at a side table along with ‘his white folks.’”[14]

Other African Americans took a more visible, if not more authoritative, role at Confederate reunions, reprising their roles as servants or cooks, often in a highly-caricatured, even comic way. The provided an element of spectacle to the events, and by their presence and performance affirmed their formal roles, and loyalty to white soldiers. Black men dressed as foragers were popular.

One of the earliest mentions of these men appeared in the “Confederate Column” of the Fort Worth Morning Register in May 1902. A former Texas cavalryman, T. M. Presley, wrote that “I noticed while at the reunion that an old-time darky was in the grand parade bearing a chicken and a foraging outfit, and it recalls to my mind an incident of the way. . . .” Presley went on to relate an anecdote that had happened to him during the war, where he and another soldier were looked after on a stormy night by an elderly slave and his wife. “We left him the next morning,” Presely concluded, “fully convinced that there were negroes [sic.] who were faithful and true to the white people.”[15]

At a reunion in Mobile in 1910 the parade featured a contingent of old African American men, “among them Jefferson Shields, who claims to have been Stonewall Jackson’s cook. Jeff was covered with reunion badges and carried a live chicken under his arm. When asked what he was doing with the chicken, he replied that he was just carrying his lunch.”[16] Three years later at Chattanooga, “a picturesque feature of the parade was the presence of several negro [sic.] ‘uncles’ who followed their masters through the war between the states. A number carried live chickens, illustrative of the manner in which they foraged when food was scarce. . . . They were heartily cheered by the spectators.”[17] The parade held in conjunction with the big UCV reunion in Washington, D.C. in June 1917 had its African American participants, as well:

“Uncle Eben,” an old colored man from a North Carolina plantation, entertained the crowd along Fifteenth Street yesterday with an old-time plantation double-shuffle to the music of the drum and fife of the division from his state.

With the Virginia division in the parade and walking directly behind the band an old colored man, dressed as in the plantation days, amused the crowd with his curious antics. The upper part of his body was covered with possum skins, while in his hat were stuck a multitude of chicken feathers. He sang plantation songs throughout the entire line of march, while a live hen he had over his shoulder was making furious efforts to escape.[18]

The best-known of these men was probably Mississippian Howard Divinity, who was billed as the “Champion Chicken Thief of the Confederate Army.” In the early 1920s, Divinity appeared at numerous reunions. At New Orleans in 1923, his appearance caused what the papers described as a “tumultuous demonstration”:

“Uncle” Howard, attired in a gray coast with a frazzled hem, and old gray cap, and with his coat and vest covered with reunion souvenirs, occupied the front seat of a big touring car. In his lap he held an old burlap sack and in the sack was a huge white hen, with her head and necked poked through a hole.[19]

The following year Divinity made an appearance at the reunion in Memphis, where “space was allotted the handful of faithful old negroes [sic.] who attended the reunion. Among them was the reverend Mack Lee of Virginia, a servant of General Robert E. Lee, ‘Colonel’ Divinity of Mississippi, confessed champion chicken thief of the Confederate army, with a rooster under his arms, and two aged negroes who served as cooks in Forrest’s cavalry.”[20]

Steve Perry had taken on this “forager” role as early as 1911, when the Rome Tribune included an item that

Steve Perry on horseback, with a couple of chickens under his arm, was a feature of the parade. Steve did not have to dress for the event, as he wears his uniform all the time at the State Mutual.[21]

(This is the only reference to Perry in connection with a Confederate reunion event that gives his name as “Perry”; all subsequent mentions use the surname Eberhart.)


Men from Rome, Georgia, about to depart for a Confederate reunion in May 1913. Steve Perry is at center left.

Perry, traveling to numerous Confederate reunions and using the moniker “Uncle” Steve Eberhart, soon became something of a local celebrity in Rome as well. As a result, he was featured in numerous profiles of the community as a local “character,” a broad category that African Americans were often grouped under. What follows is a long selection of profiles of Perry in the guise of “Uncle” Steve Eberhart, all written roughly at the same time, all apparently by white authors writing for white audiences. These excerpts are filled with ugly stereotypes and language, but it’s also important to understand that neither are these pieces are written specifically to disparage Perry/Eberhart – they’re profiling him in exactly the way most whites in the South would at that time, as a loyal former slave who knows his place and is content with it.

The longest of these is a profile written by a Captain Will Ewing, a Rome attorney, that appeared in the local paper, the Rome News Tribune, in August 1960, but from the context seems to have been written many years before, perhaps in the early 1920s:

It doesn’t seem so long ago that talkative “Uncle Steve” was an every-day sight on Rome’s streets. More often than not pushing a rusty, fallen-down wheelbarrow all the way from his home in a settlement where South Broad Street ends, Bluff Road begins. . . In his younger days, Uncle Steve drove a Curry-Arrington dray (for years THE DRUG store on a corner at Broad, Second Avenue). . . . When the old, “befo’ dae wah Negro” was more active he drove with gusto, a flourish – graying, aging, he would sit in the back dangling his legs, but always erect – now and then giving out a whoop, or bursting into a spiritual, one from the heart. . . . Uncle Steve, with his prevaricating, Ananias proclivity (a born, outright liar but harmless, without malice, part of his show-off nature; the psychologist might tag it “his defense mechanism) . . . .

A generation ago hundreds of Roman knew, passed the time of day, pleasantries with Uncle Steve. . . The late Captain Will Ewing, Rome attorney and something of a character himself wrote a sketch of Uncle Steve which his in preserved in Scrapbooks, share it today with Hear ‘bout readers:

STEVE EBERHART

A Sketch

Nearly every community has its “character” who serves to give local color to an otherwise drab and somber landscape. The is particularly true among our negro [sic.] population and is often the subject of remark and comment. Almost any morning Steve Eberhart, an old gray wiskered, gray headed Negro, of quick action and medium height, may be encountered on the street, trundling his wheelbarrow from hotel to boardinghouse, gathering up kitchen refuse for his hogs. He is always polite and reader with a bow and a good morning salutation to all he may meet, most of whom he knows on intimate terms.

About this time of year (spring) he calls to pay his respects to his white friends and incidentally to make a collection in aid of his annual pilgrimage to some one of the Confederate reunions of those old soldiers, who in the ‘60s heard the thunder of the guns. This is the season for those reunions and Steve, who is now in his 80th year, tries to attend them all.

As a body servant, he accompanied his young master to the Civil war [sic.]. He was at the first Manassas, Bull Run, and with Lee at Appomattox, though he never surrendered, as he boasts. At these reunions of the Gray, he is a regular attendant and figures in the line of March, in full dress Confederate uniform, covered with innumerable brass buttons and miniature Union and Rebel flags.

Another notable part of “his make-up” is a red, game rooster, which he has taught to crow at every halt in the parade. This he calls “the rebel yell” and it always brings forth response in like kind from the line of marchers.

These old veterans all know Steve, as do their sons and daughters, and it’s not often that he returns home without some evidence of their kindly remembrance and regard.

Like most old Negroes, Steve is religiously inclined and much given to what he calls “de Scripture,” but when excited or desirous of being forceful in his remarks, he at times makes use of language neither orthodox nor customary among the elect, though he claims to be “one of de high lights” and always takes his seat in church in what he calls, “de amend cornder,” from whence he is often called on “to lead in praar.”

At a late reunion in Birmingham, some old veteran gave Steve a new pair of tan colored shoes. These had been handed him, wrapped in a paper parcel. As he walked to the depot he could not resist the temptation to take another look at his present. So unwrapping the bundle, as he walked, he not only gratified this desire, but expounded his gratitude for the gift,, giving at the same time this version of the 23rd Psalm, “I’ll be damned if dat want a fine old man what give me dis here pair o’ shoes. He sholly is good to to dis ole nigger. Dem old rebs never forget Steve. You can bet your bottom dollar, on dat. De Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want. He makes me lie down on de green grass. He leads me to de cole spring. He restores my soul: Halleluga! Halleluga!

The use of “cuss” words by Steve is rather an inability to render himself emphatic than any inherent profanity. It’s really the shortness of his vocabulary that makes him “break out” particularly when excited or very much in earnest when expressing himself.

Telling a neighbor of the misfortune sustained by a mutual friend in the death of a horse he said, “Unk Si, you know dat dar gray mar what Unk Jo brought o’ Wm Jacobs? Well, what you tink. De ole mar done laid down on the de old man’s hands and died.” His listener intimating disbelief, he attempted to explain, “I doan mean dese here hands” . . . extending his own, “I mean, I means, I means dat ole mar jess nacherly laid down on de – on de – on de – ole man’s hands – Oh damn de old mar.” The explanation had gotten too deep for Steve.

At a late revival Steve was called on by the officiating colored brother to pray. Before beginning he let his eye wander over the congregation and reached the conclusion that its members needed rather temporal than spiritual food. So he began, “Oh Lord, Bless dese here people, Give to each fably a barl o’ flor and a barl o’ meal and a barl o’ sugar, and a barl o’ salt, and a barl o’ pepper,” then hesitating and modulating his voice, “oh, hell dats too much pepper.”

Everyone laughs both at and with Steve.[22]

In George Magruder Battey’s book, A History of Rome and Floyd County, Perry/Eberhart comes up a number of times, including in a section called “Gems from ‘Uncle Steve’.” Battey drops in several quick anecdotes, apparently taken from local papers, each of which both reinforces the old black man’s role as a humble and loyal former slave, and gently mocks him in the way contemporary writings often did. The first anecdote reprises an old trick, where whites use grandiose language in conserving with the unlettered old man:

Steve Eberhart, the slavery time darkey whose gyrations around Confederate veterans’ reunions with live chickens under his arm always stir up the ebullitions of guilty bystanders and others, yesterday submitted to an interview as he filled a place in the picket line at their meeting at the Carnegie Library.

“Steve, how does your corporosity seem to segashuate?”

“Fine as split silk,” promptly returned Steve, who had borrowed that expression in Cedartown.

“Well, Steve, do you suppose your opsonic index would coagulate should the Republican administration at Washington send down here and try to get you to accept an office?”

“It mout, boss, but dere ain’t no chance to git dis here Steve to ‘cept no place wid dem folks.”

“Wouldn’t you like to represent your country in the jungles of Africa?”

“Lordy, boss, I’s skeered enuf o’ de varmints we have right here around Rome. And as fer dem cannibalists, you sholy don’t ketch dis old nigger furnishin’ de bones for none o’ dat missionary stew. Naw, sir, I’s bleeged to decline with profound deliberation. Dem ‘publicans jes’ want de nigger’s vote. Steve Eberhart’s a lily white Democrat, Steve is!” —Aug. 7, 1921.[23]

And then there are these passages, again claiming to be Perry’s own words, that is painful to modern ears:

Steve Eberhart, an old slave who was Henry Grady’s valet in college at Athena and is now mascot of the Veterans.

Steve Eberhart, the ancient Senegambian who dresses up in flags and feathers, mostly just before Confederate reunion time, has written a card in which he pours out his libations of joy and gratitude to the “white folks” for their generosity in giving him enough money to attend the state meeting at Albany.

Steve hopes the fountain of satisfaction may overflow for his friends and the wax tapers burn brightly on high, while he stews in the sacred unction here below. —May 16, 1921.

“I want to thank the good white people of Rome for sending me to Texas to the Old Soldiers’ Reunion. I am thankful. I shall ever remain in my place, and be obedient to all the white people. I pray that the angels may guard the homes of all Rome, and the light of God shine upon them. I will now give you a rest until the reunion next year, if the Lord lets me live to see it. Your humble servant. Steve Eberhart.” —1920.[24]

And then this profile, under a section called, “Darkeys of Rome, Old-Time,”:

Steve Eberhart (or Perry): “Profession, whitewasher. Steve came to Rome about 20 years ago from Athens, where he was the slave in the war of Col. Abraham Eberhart. He is the mascot of the Confederate Veterans of Rome, and in his attempts to attend every reunion of the Boys in Gray collects a lot of money under various false pretenses, and gets away with it. Some of his whitewash might well be used on himself, for he is as black as African midnight and nearly as small as a chinquepin [sic.], but he carries himself with an erectile strut that immediately becomes a dissembling shamble when he wants to pass around the hat. At reunion time he puts on his artillery uniform of red and gray, and lays a barrage of profanity that withers every new-fangled darkey that crosses his path. Under his arm is his pet rooster, borrowed from a convenient hen-house, and such feathers as are missing from the fowl’s tail can be found in Steve’s beaver hat. Steve is on the shady side of 80. His sideline is collecting clothes from the white folks so the women can wash ‘em, and on his shiny dome he can balance a bag of clothes nearly as well as a watermelon. He is of the aristocracy, having been just after the war valet at Athens to Henry W. Grady and Ben Hill. He is a powerful orator, with ‘Fiddling Bob’ Taylor’s ability to cry on occasion, and if his education had not been cut short by Mr. Grady’s graduation from the University, he might have been the Daniel Webster of his race. While he has never been ordained as a minister, he can preach with the best of them. He served with his ‘marster’ in the war on the west Coast of Florida, and there learned how to fish.”[25]

Then there’s the photo. Perry’s greatest notoriety as Uncle Steve Eberhart likely came in December of 1921, when a photograph of him at a reunion in Chattanooga was picked up by the newswire services and published in papers across the country. The photograph (right), titled “Ex-Slave, Loyal to His Old Master,” shows Perry, dressed in his full “foraging” regalia, standing next to a taller, elderly white man identified at Patrick Eberhart. The image caption, which was also reproduced in newspapers around the country, read, “two of the most interesting figures at the reunion of Confederate veterans at Chattanooga, Tenn., recently were Patrick Eberhart, one of the ‘boys of ’61,’ and ‘Uncle Steve’ Eberhart, who has remained with his master ever since the war ended.”[26]

Such images as this were not uncommon, but in this case the story it tells is pure bunkum. Patrick Eberhart was not one of the “boys of ’61,” at least in the conventional sense; he didn’t enlist until nearly two years into the war. Perry did not remain “with his master ever since the war ended;” while he was living in Athens at the time of the 1870 U.S. Census; and serving as Henry W. Grady’s valet, Patrick Eberhart was back in Oglethorpe County, one county over, living with his father and younger siblings. [27] He was still living in Oglethorpe County, now with a wife, Anna, and son, Abel (named for Patrick’s father), at the time of the 1880 U.S. Census.[28] There’s no evidence that Steve Perry and Patrick Eberhart maintained a close relationship – or really any relationship at all — in the postwar years. (In his 1929 interview with Hilliard Wimpee of the Atlanta Constitution, Perry stated that he had “remained the servant of the Eberharts until his old ‘Master’ died several years following the war.”) While we cannot know now who made the caption’s claim about Perry and Eberhart remaining together, or whether Perry even knew about it at the time, the notion that Perry stayed “with his master” for more than fifty years after the conflict is demonstrably false. As captioned, the picture is an outright fraud.

There’s more, but you get the idea. The language itself is bad enough, but much more important are the mocking, stereotyped descriptions of Perry, which are typical fare in pieces written for white readers in that time and place. The purpose was not to demean Perry specifically so much as to use his as an exemplar of the proper place of a black man in the South in the early 20th century – deferential, personally and politically loyal, content with his place, grateful for the patronage of his white neighbors (including Confederate veterans), and somewhat of a comic character. There is praise, of a sort, but it’s praise for his conforming to the “faithful slave” narrative so central to the Lost Cause.

After emancipation, some former slaves took the surnames of their former masters. Others did not. While almost every mention of Steve Perry in connection with Confederate reunions, or in profiles for white readers which usually revolve around his involvement in reunions, give his name as “Uncle Steve Eberhart,” there’s no indication that he used that surname formally, or in his day-to-day life.[29] Like Crockett Davis, the former cook and servant who became “Crockett Hill” when attending Terry’s Rangers reunions with his former masters, Perry’s use of his former master’s name appears to be one entirely for white consumption, and in a specific context. Steve used the surname Perry from a few years after the war, as documented in the 1870 U.S. Census, all the way through the time of his death, more than sixty years later. When he married Myra, she took the name Perry, not Eberhart. When they had children, they were Perrys, not Eberharts. When he died, the name on what is probably his death certificate reads Perry, not Eberhart.

Does that consistent use of the name Perry throughout his adult life as a private citizen, while answering to “Uncle Steve Eberhart” at Confederate veteran reunions and to white newspaper reporters, say something significant about this man’s understanding of his position in the context of the time and place? I believe it does. It suggests that Steve Perry, in his later years, understood very well that he was taking on a role, one that was crafted to match the expectations of a specific audience of Confederate veterans, the white citizenry of Rome, and curious newspaper reporters looking for stories about “old-time” black citizens. It was a role, a character, one that drew more attention the more outlandish and comical it was. Many old African American men participated in Confederate reunions, but Steve Perry, Jeffferson Shields and Howard Divinity and a few others made a conscious decision to embrace the role of comic characters – “Uncle Steve Eberhart,” “Champion Chicken Thief of the Confederacy” and so on – that, while based in some part on their actual experiences, are nonetheless so exaggerated, so explicitly playing to an appreciative audience, that their public personae bear little resemblance to the historical record of their lives.

Why did Perry and others take on these roles in the their latter years? It’s impossible to say for sure, but no doubt the opportunity for travel and fame (of a sort) were powerful attractions. Steve Perry would not have been the first person drawn to the spotlight at the expense of some of his personal dignity, nor the last. No doubt he genuinely enjoyed the attention, the parades and the celebrity, as well as the opportunity to swap yarns with old white veterans. But those things came at a price, which was to march in a parade with live chickens and play the role of a loyal former slave, supposedly still serving his former master almost sixty years after the war had ended. Will Ewing said that “everyone laughs both at and with Steve,” and that seems to be a very accurate summary of how the white community – Confederate veterans included – viewed men like him. They laughed at them, and with them, too.

Did Perry see a distinction between himself and the character he portrayed at veterans’ conventions? I’m certain that he did. We cannot know what calculation he made in adopting the “Uncle Steve Eberhart” role in his later years, but I have no doubt he understood what he was doing, and took that path for reasons that seemed sound to him.

Ultimately, this proves to be a tale of two men. Steve Perry was a man who worked his entire life in varied small jobs, married, and raised a family. He saw to it that his children has at least a basic education. By contrast, “Uncle Steve Eberhart” was a comedy act, one specifically crafted to please Confederate veterans and Steve Perry’s white neighbors in Rome. It’s just a shame that it’s the latter that’s the one remembered today.


[1] George Magruder Battey, A History of Rome and Floyd County, State of Georgia, United States of America: Including Numerous Incidents of More Than Local Interest, 1540-1922 (Atlanta: Webb and Vary Co., 1922), 371.

[2] 1900 U.S. Census Schedule No. 1, Clarke County, Georgia, Athens District, 4th Ward. (hereafter “1900 U.S. Census,” via Ancestry.com); 1910 U.S. Census Schedule, Floyd County, Georgia, Rome Militia District, 5th Ward (hereafter “1910 U.S. Census,” via Ancestry.com); 1920 U.S. Census Schedule, Floyd County, Georgia, Rome Township (hereafter “1920 U.S. Census,” via Ancestry.com); “ ‘Uncle’ Eberhart Happy on His 100th Birthday,” Atlanta Constitution, 31 March 1929, p. C5 (hereafter “AC, 31 March 1929”).

[3] Battey, 302.

[4] Compiled Service Record for P. S. Eberhart, Capt Tiller’s Co (Echols Light Artillery), RG 109, Georgia, NARA M266 (Via Fold3). Patrick S. Eberhart, of Oglethorpe County, Georgia, was himself a teenager at the outbreak of the war, appearing in the 1860 U.S. Census at the age of 16, the second son of Abel Eberhart, a wealthy planter. 1860 U.S. Census Schedule No. 1, Oglethorpe County, Georgia (via Ancestry.com). The elder Eberhart owned several male slaves in their teens, any of which entries may represent Steve. 1860 U.S. Census Slave Schedules, Oglethorpe County, Georgia (via Ancestry.com).

[5] “Hear ‘Bout,” Rome News Tribune, 21 Aug 1960.

[6] 1870 U.S. Census, Schedule No. 1, Clarke County, Georgia, Athens District, 2nd Ward.

[7] Darren Grem, “Henry W. Grady (1850-1889),” New Georgia Encyclopedia (http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2451), retrieved 1 November 2011; Gunnar Myrdal and Sissela Bok, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1996), 1354. (via Google Books).

[8] AC, 31 March 1929; 1900 U.S. Census; 1910 U.S. Census.

[9] 1900 U.S. Census; Battey, 370.

[10] 1910 U.S. Census.

[11] 1920 U.S. Census.

[12] AC, 31 March 1929.

[13] Death Certificate 19302, 30 June 1936. State of Georgia. Indexes of Vital Records for Georgia: Deaths, 1919-1998. Georgia, USA: Georgia Health Department, Office of Vital Records, 1998. Via Ancestry.com.

[14] Galveston Daily News, 30 October 1913, p. 1.

[15] Fort Worth Morning Register, 18 May 1902.

[16] New Orleans Times-Picayune, 29 April 1910.

[17] Tulsa World, 30 May 1913.

[18] Washington Post, 8 June 1917,

[19] San Diego Union, 14 April 1923.

[20] Tampa Tribune, 7 June 1924.

[21] Rome Tribune-Herald, 23 September 1911.

[22] “Hear ‘Bout,” Rome News Tribune 21 Aug 1960.

[23] Battey, 302. “Corporosity” and “segashuate” are “dialect” terms that appear to be lifted from Joel Chandler Harris’ “Uncle Remus” Stories, the former from “Mr. Man Has Some Meat,” and the latter from “The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story.

[24] Battey, 302.

[25] Battey, 370-72.

[26] Coshocton, Ohio Tribune, 6 December 1921; Hamilton, Ohio, Evening Journal, 16 December 1921; Miami Herald Record, 11 December 1921; Oshkosh Daily Northwestern 23 December 1921; San Antonio Evening News, 15 December 1921, and San Diego Evening Tribune, 13 December 1921.

[27] U.S. Census, Schedule No. 1, Oglethorpe County, Georgia. Via Ancestry.

[28] U.S. Census, Schedule No. 1, District 226, Oglethorpe County, Georgia. Via Ancestry.

[29] The documentation linking the character of “Uncle Steve Eberhart” and Steve Perry appears in Battey, pp. v and 370.

_____________
Image sources: top, “Photograph of Steve Eberhart, Rome, Floyd County, Georgia.” Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Archives. Second (departing for reunion), Rome News Tribune, 6 July 1997. Third, “Photograph of former slave Stephen Eberhart who went to war with his master, Rome, Floyd County, Georgia, ca. 1910.” Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Archives. Bottom (with Eberhart), Miami Herald Record, 11 December 1921.

11 Responses

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  1. focusoninfinity said, on November 11, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    In the old, solidly segregated (legally & socially) South; there may have been some few, rare. atypical instances at white Confederate veteran re-unions where a black may have been treated as a co-equal comrade-in-arms by some (likely not all) white veterans; but……

    I was a youth in the still-segregated South in the 1950’s; and it must have been worse–not better–in the earlier times; blacks still rode at the back of the bus, the Klan mostly just threatened to ride again, most Christian churches were either white or black, and if mixed–segregated; dime-store lunch counters were still segregated–if blacks could be seated at all.

    It was still that way when age 17, 1961, I joined the Navy where and when, our Sears & Roebuck still had water fountains marked “white” and “colored” (the water was the same color in both fountains, it was the color of the drinkers that differed). Later, out; there was now but one Sears water-fountain; the adjoining wall nicely, newly painted; now no “white” or “colored” signs painted there on. But now not on, but beneath; my eyes close to that wall, you could still make-out, the latent legacy beneath, the outlines: “colored”, and “white”.

    I espied this again, and again, where once there were “colored” and “white” water fountains. It was ALWAYS the “colored” fountains that were removed, and the once “white” ones remained. Yet at that Sears (and other large stores); at the even in inter-state commerce, railroad station; both fountains were mechanically identical; other than the once humanly differing, labels above them. It was the implied “inferior” fountain that was removed; not because the fountain, objectively, mechanically was found inferior; but because–perhaps unconsciously–it’s designated human users were inferred, “inferior”. Thus the inferred superior, fountain, remained.

    As a youth of the still segregated Southern 1950’s; blacks, uhhh-“coloreds” (the then polite term; even blacks used it then); being treated as co-equal comrades-at-arms with white Confederate vets—you godduh-be-kidding? Treating coloreds then politely–sure! That, happened frequently. If they knew their place!

    • Andy Hall said, on November 11, 2011 at 1:27 pm

      Yes. I’m part of the first generation that went all the way though integrated public schools in the South. (Some assume that integration came quickly after Brown v. Board n 1954; in fact, many school districts dragged their feet for a decade or more before they started, and even then it was only gradually phased in.) Those who romanticize race relations in the South — whether in the 1850s or the 1950s — have convinced themselves that notions about white supremacy were something confined to small but violent groups like the Klan, and that everybody else got along just fine. It’s a comfortable, happy myth; everyone “got along just fine” so long as everyone understood and kept their place, and didn’t challenge the status quo. Those who challenged that could expect something much worse. And that’s Southern heritage, too.

  2. jeff bell said, on November 12, 2011 at 1:32 am

    As more time passes, I think that history won’t judge Steve harshly – in fact, I believe his white counterparts will be the group dismissed as ignorant to their actual place in history. Steve knew his limitations and played them out in the way that best benefitted his family. The average white Southerner (if there was such a thing) on the other hand lived in a world where the ” the handful of faithful old negroes ” kept them entertained and sure of their place as the ” superior race”. In other words, the segregationist and racist way of life that pervaded the South was proper and correct – and Steve was living proof of it. But how does this relate to the modern “Lost Cause” movement? Does this mean that the average Southerner who still believes in the “War of Northern Aggression” is also most likely racist? Or perhaps they don’t realize that their belief that Blacks are inferior is even a racist attitude – I’m just throwing out ideas here.

    • Andy Hall said, on November 12, 2011 at 8:43 am

      Just to be clear, I’m not trying to make a moral judgement about Perry’s actions one way or another. As Matt suggests, there’s a large element of doing what he had to do to get by, as he saw it at the time. I do, however, think we need to look at his actions in the context of the time and pace, and try to understand the forces inbvolved. There were plenty of those that would push Steve Perry toward becoming “Uncle Steve Eberhart.”

      Perry’s case is an interesting one that, in some ways, illustrates the situation many African American men found themselves in when it came to involvement with Confederate reunions. I’m not dismissing the obvious motives at all — a certain amount of comradeship, reminiscing, etc. — but when you look beyond the photos and read detailed accounts of the events (or numerous write-ups about “faithful slaves” in the Confederate Veteran magazine — it becomes immediately clear that these men self-selected into roles that reaffirmed the old social, political, and racial order. These men were certainly no longer slaves, but they were praised and applauded for showing the same attributes.

      In performing (and I think that’s exactly the right word) as “Uncle Steve Eberhart,” Perry took his act farther than most; Crock Davis, in Texas, doesn’t seem to have adopted the obsequious caricature that Perry, Divinity and others did. But the fact that Perry never seems to have used that identity in his day-to-day life, and that it only turns up late in his life in connection with Confederate reunions, argues strongly that Perry himself understood it to be a sort of costume, a character that he consciously chose to represent. One can speculate as to the why he did so, but it seems clear enough that it was a deliberate decision. (No doubt, as he became older and less able to work at manual labor, anything that earned the patronage or support of the white community in Rome would have had some appeal.)

      One thing that surprised me is that, while you can find references to “Uncle Steve Eberhart” all over the web, none that I saw make the connection to Steve Perry. That confirms something that I and others have been saying for a while now — the folks who push the BCS meme have very little interest in understanding these men, as men; they simply want to chalk up another faithful slave loyal black Confederate.

  3. Matt McKeon said, on November 12, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Andy,
    This short history of Steve Perry was quite moving. The things we do to get by.

    • Andy Hall said, on November 12, 2011 at 8:45 am

      Thanks, Matt. “The things we do to get by” is a thought that kept coming back.

  4. Andy Hall said, on November 12, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Apropos of nothing in particular, I also noted that the location of the c. 1934 photo of Perry at the top of the post, in the 200 block of Broad Street in Rome, is little changed from its appearance twenty years before, during the funeral of President Wilson’s first wife (who was from Rome), or today:

  5. Matt McKeon said, on November 13, 2011 at 6:43 am

    I’m currently reading “Lost Battalions” about WWI. It details the clownish and humiliating roles African Americans were supposed to adopt, and the culture shock of a unit of black New York National Guard soldiers sent to train in a camp in South Carolina. Military values and attitudes were not compatible with white supremacist values and attitudes.

    • Andy Hall said, on November 13, 2011 at 8:21 am

      It’s important for folks to remember that this expectation that African Americans would conform to stereotyped, demeaning, comic images was very common across the country, for generations. It infused American culture, and so was inevitably part of the armies of 1861-65, and later. The tales of exploitation and abuse of both USCTs and contrabands by the Union army are legion, as well.

      The degree to which individuals accommodated this, even played up to it, varies a lot, and their reasons for doing so are probably lost. But there were lots of pressures for them to do so.

      Worth noting, perhaps, that Steve Perry’s involvement with Confederate reunions as “Uncle Steve Eberhart” spanned two decades, c. 1910 to 1930 (or later), including the years of WWI — they’re contemporary events.

  6. focusoninfinity said, on November 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Near San Francisco I believe it was; in WWII (possibly WWI?) black soldiers and sailors were used primarily as laborers. The Navy was using it’s blacks there as ammunition ship longshoremen, unloading dangerous munitions. Young, white, U. S. Navy officers were allegedly playing wagering sports games, as to who’s black gang could unload the most-est, quickest. Ammo is dangerous even when without wagering, safely handled. Boom! I read a book about it. Chilling!

    Decades ago, when outbound bright-leaf tobacco was still shipped in 950-pound hogsheads (big wooden barrels) to the Japanese Tobacco Monopoly; I was a member of the Morehead City State Port ILA local, and had the tobacco hogshead re-cooper gang. They were mostly black, ex-fish-house ladies who earlier, before the collapse of our fishing, shrimping, and crabbing industries; worked their fingers off for little pay, picking crabs. I remembered those earlier segregated, crab-house times; and respected these wonderful women to whom $12 an hour was now, good pay.

    Warehouse, hogshead re-cooper ladies, had to use the male longshoremen’s (the ships working ILA got much higher pay) filthy bathrooms; and when one lady went, another had to go too; to guard the door. I suggested they all go at once, with two ladies detailed to guard the door. It would be safer for them and more efficient for our gang.

    When a new port was proposed for here at Southport, N.C., I went to a meeting, asking that lady longshore(women?) bathrooms be provided, separate from the men’s. The Public Relations lady indicated sure-sure. But I’m not, so-sure?

    Because if women did not work the docks, such a second bathroom would be expensive; I suggested it also be outfitted with urinals; so if women did not use it, then men could use it when the men’s was being cleaned. I suggested both bathrooms, men’s and women’s; be fitted with waterproof lighting, tiled walls and floors with good drains, and stainless steel fittings; so a person with a tractor pulling a steam-jenny, could drive through; wide doors at each end. The cleaner need only sweep the trash up; then steam-clean it easily, but thoroughly, quickly.

    But despite the PR-persons “Yeah!”; it will be likely the same ol’style, hard-to-clean, filthy bathrooms. The hard working ladies deserved better. I, a male; could live with the stench. It’s all in containers now; I can but wonder when ladies last worked the Morehead City Port’s warehouses?

    Gone over a decade, I went back to visit, and was walking the little town’s sidewalks. Suddenly an old black lady walking towards me, starts running; her arms out, shouting “Jimmeeee, Jimmeeeeee!”, and grabs me with both her arms tightly binding me. My arms pinned to my sides; I say lady I’m glad you like me, but “Who are you?” ;”Nunnee-Bunny, Nunnee-Bunny” she says. “My-lord Nunnee-Bunny; it’s been a long time, I didn’t recognize you”. I FELT LIKE A KING THAT DAY, one of the best days of my life. I’ve accomplished little in my life; but that meant so much, that day; now long ago.

    • Andy Hall said, on November 14, 2011 at 7:43 am

      Near San Francisco I believe it was; in WWII (possibly WWI?) black soldiers and sailors were used primarily as laborers. The Navy was using it’s blacks there as ammunition ship longshoremen, unloading dangerous munitions. Young, white, U. S. Navy officers were allegedly playing wagering sports games, as to who’s black gang could unload the most-est, quickest. Ammo is dangerous even when without wagering, safely handled. Boom! I read a book about it. Chilling!

      That was the Port Chicago explosion in 1944.


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