Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Jubilo! on the Appeal of Black Confederates to African Americans

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on February 3, 2011

A new blog came online a few weeks back, that I want to highlight because of some very smart writing by a blogger going by the handle lunchcountersitin. Jubilo! The Century of Emancipation deals with much more than the Civil War, but as the central event in American history during the nineteenth century, that conflict gets particular attention. Here’s what strikes me as an insightful read on the phenomenon of modern-day African Americans embracing Southron Heritage™ groups’ designation of their ancestors as Confederate soldiers, willingly fighting for the Confederate cause:

We’ve seen this before: black families filled with honor at the recognition given to their enslaved ancestors, for the reason that those ancestors somehow fought for what was a pro-slavery regime. The sense of conflict inherent in that is hardly mentioned. I got to thinking: how is it that so many black families ignore these details of their ancestors’ lives, status, and circumstances? Why is it that they are not addressing a key part of the story? After a little bit of thought, the answer was obvious. Black folks are like everyone else: they want to feel that their ancestors were heroes.

Simply put, there is no honor or glory in acknowledging that a long deceased relative was near a battlefield solely to do menial work as act of submission and service to a slave master. People would much rather believe that their ancestors were called to fight – which would be a recognition of their manhood, of their worthiness to do battle, and of their willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice.

But here’s the rub: if these slaves were in fact recognized for their manhood and worthiness – then why were they slaves in the first place? The reality is, black men were seen as degraded, to use a common term of the era, and subservient. Loyalty, not the capacity for courage, was most valued in a slave. After all, a bondsman who was intrepid enough to flee for his freedom – and perhaps fight for the Union – was of no use to a slavemaster on the battlefield.

But people of today want to see their ancestors through their own eyes, and they want to see those ancestors as brave and courageous. This focus on “bravery not slavery” dovetails perfectly with the “heritage not hate” narrative of groups like the Sons of Confederates Veterans. By maintaining an unspoken rule to avoid the unspeakable – the horrors of slavery and the contradiction of a slave fighting for a slave nation – both sides get to honor their ancestors without pondering the issues this “service” raises.

Obviously this is generalizing, and as such can’t really be ascribed to this or that specific descendant. People were complicated in 1865, and they’re complicated in 2011. But on a human level, it makes a lot of sense that this is at least part of the equation.

4 Responses

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  1. lunchcountersitin said, on February 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm


    Thanks for your comment on my blog.

    And you’re right, I was making a generalization. I edited my article to change it from saying “the answer was obvious” to “one answer was obvious,” as in, this is one answer that explains some folks’ actions and motivations.

    Keep up the good work,

  2. corkingiron said, on February 5, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Oh, thanks a lot Andy! Like I didn’t have enough “historian’s envy” between you and the gang at TNC’s place!
    Did you read the 1862 NYT piece? I wonder if they’ll feature it in their “Disunion” segment.

  3. Richard said, on February 8, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    I was reading your Keep Your Friends Close… page. The last entry had me rolling on the ground, needed that today.

    Josephine Southern, commenting at Blood of My Kindred, January 8, 2011:
    You are dog crap; the lot of you.

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