Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Ta-Nehisi Coates on black Confederate soldiers:

The claim that blacks "served on both sides," which is made at the outset, is true in the most broadest sense of the word "serve," or in much the same way that both Usain Bolt and I both "run." Some 180,000 black people fought for the Union. Krick claims twelve for the Confederacy, and I'd be very interested in those specific cases.

It's worth considering how this claim lingers. James McPherson is a Pulitizer-Prize winning historian, one of the titans of his field. Bruce Levine wrote a highly readable investigation into the charge. Historians from the Park Service have debunked the myth. There is a website specifically devoted to further debunking the myth. And yet it does not simply linger, it thrives and actually spreads to reputable places like The Takeaway. The information is widely available. We simply can't cope with it.

That black people are participants in the spread of this myth doesn't mean much to me. I'm sure somewhere there are Jews who deny the Holocaust. All this says to me is that it is extremely painful--for blacks and whites--to face up to the fact that Civil War was about the right of white people to pilfer the labor of blacks. We really need to believe that our ancestors were better than this. But they weren't. And, as proven by our inability to accept the truth, neither are we.

1 comment:

  1. Well, we weren't just pilfering their labor. We were owning them as property, in every sense of the word, and making property decisions with their lives as investments.

    I was appalled to hear "The Takeaway" yesterday, 4/12, with the hosts happily sucking down the Soma that "tens of thousands" of black soldiers served the Confederacy, many with -- drum roll of vampire thunder -- Nathan Bedford Forrest! AS IF!

    An awful lot of slaves dug ditches, drove wagons, and provided body service -- but the well-documented refusal of state and Confederate legislatures to allow black military service, even at the ultimate crisis of the war for the Confederacy, shows how repugnant the idea of a black "soldier" was to Southern leaders.

    I guess there's a folk notion out there that "They did it, anyway, and the fact that I can't prove it just means that what I think is unassailable."