Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

A Smart Take on Black Confederates

Posted in African Americans by Andy Hall on October 20, 2010

With all due respect to Kevin and Robert and so many others who’ve pulled apart the Black Confederate meme, spread the pieces out on the table and looked at them from different angles to see what makes it run, Adam Serwer today had one of the most insightful, cut-to-the-core, expose-the-man-behind-the-curtain analyses I’ve seen yet:

White guilt is generally characterized as a liberal phenomenon. The idea is that liberals seek to exonerate themselves from past racism rather than simply meet their obligations to their fellow citizens. To the extent that the former is an accurate description of someone’s motives, the criticism is warranted. But the attempt to minimize the suffering caused by slavery and segregation, to recast the Lost Cause as one motivated by “honor” and self-determination rather than racial supremacy and the preservation of chattel slavery, arises out of the same contemptible emotional impulse. The Lost Causer insisting that the Confederacy was not built on racism because of the presence of black soldiers isn’t any less mired in guilt than the liberal quietly mouthing the names of their black friends as they count them on their fingertips. In both cases, the individual trying to free themselves from history ends up drowning in a bottomless pit of self-pity and self-deception that, over time, can only ferment into rage over inability to find an absolution that will be forever beyond their reach.


h/t, David White of the Golden Horde.

4 Responses

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  1. absurdbeats said, on October 20, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    Absolution without atonement—it’s the American way!

  2. Sherree said, on October 28, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Wow, Andy, this is quite a blog! I like, in particular, that you state up front that your investigation of the past is a “work in progress”. Thus, from the outset, you are not locked into any particular theory of history, Lost Cause or otherwise. I find that refreshing, since a true understanding of the past cannot be reached via a theory, in my opinion.

    On the topic of this post–I agree with the writer you quote. However, I think he is too charitable to diehard Lost Causers. For the true believer in the Lost Cause, guilt has little to do with attempting to portray his or her ancestors in a more favorable light. A feeling of guilt would even suggest that he or she (the diehard Lost Causer) might even feel remorse for the actions of his or her ancestors, and that is rarely the case. (I am not speaking of those who grow up in the Lost Cause tradition, then deny it. I am speaking of those who are determined to uphold the Lost Cause tradition and perpetuate it) Instead, there is a somewhat cynical manipulation of the often false portrayal of the white Northern public of the Civil War era as being in lockstep with the African American community, as was not the case and as serious historians know. In other words, the Lost Cause adherent who suggests that there were legions of black soldiers fighting for the Confederacy attempts to turn the romanticized story of Glory into his or her own story–the romanticized part of the story being that most white Union officers and soldiers were like Shaw (One of the first real critiques of the movie Glory that I have read , I just read on a blog that you link to, the African American CW Museum.) This is absurd, of course, since the black Southern “soldier” was a slave. Most people understand this and the Black Confederate myth is not taken seriously. Yet, myth making is a serious problem when it comes to history, as the recent controversy over the 4th grade Virginia textbook clearly illustrates, and creators of myths–white, black, North and South–do a disservice to our past, and to our future. Kevin Levin at CW Memory has succinctly summed up one of the major problems with the Black Confederate myth–the myth itself, along with the necessity that the myth creates of countering it, prevents, to a certain extent, an exploration of the truly complex relationship that existed between master and slave.

    Again, I have enjoyed reading your blog and wish you success in this forum.

    (As a side note, one blog that is truly outstanding and that I don’t see a link to is Professor Vikki Bynum’s Renegade South. You might consider taking a look at it, if you don’t mind a suggestion from a new reader. Bynum is a tremendous scholar. She is also a very gracious person who freely shares her knowledge. Thanks, Andy.)

    • Andy Hall said, on October 28, 2010 at 2:46 pm


      Thanks for your thoughtful comment and kind words. I hope to respond in more detail later, when I can give it the time it deserves.

      On your last note, I’m familiar with Renegade South and Dr. Bynum’s work — I think highly of her work, and her absence from the blogroll is a serious oversight on my part. But it is one that will be corrected immediately. Thanks for pointing it out.

      • Sherree said, on October 28, 2010 at 2:55 pm

        Hey Andy,

        You’re welcome.

        I am looking forward to what you have to say in the future. Have a great day. Sherree

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