Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Mythical Slave

(June 18, 2019) Since the 1950s historians have rightly challenged portrayals of the typical black slave as the loyal servant depicted in Gone With the Wind. Partly due to the 1976 release of Alex Hayley’s Roots, such challenges shifted into overdrive in the mid-1970s. Consequently, popular culture has presently replaced the loyal servant stereotype with the cliché of the slave as a silent-suffering prisoner whose attitude toward his master was much closer to Nat Turner’s than to any of Tara’s servants. Notwithstanding consistent efforts to eradicate the “loyal slave myth”  and replace it with an equally distorted portrayal at the opposite pole, evidence remains that the impression was at least sometimes, or in some ways, valid.

The aged slave narratives transcribed during the Great Depression show that some were resentful toward their master, while others were affectionate.  Perhaps the key determinant was their perception of the relationship as either Master-Slave or Guardian-Ward. Nonetheless, today’s example comes from Richard Williams’s Relics and Bones Blog

“Old Bob”

When Union Major General David Hunter raided Lexington, Virginia in 1864 he marked the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) for plunder and destruction. One household slave owned by Superintendent Francis Smith took it upon himself to preserve what school records and valuables he could in the manner of the loyal slave. Properly named  Robert Price, Old Bob would serve the Smith family for fifty years, first as a slave and later as paid worker. When Smith was often away from Lexington during the war Old Bob “assumed charge of the household as a protector and each night he would spread his pallet in the hall, in front of the bedroom of his mistress”, even though Price was, himself, the “father of a large family.”

Shortly before the Yankees arrived Bob buried an old dead horse near the family garden. According to a 1925 VMI student newspaper article:

“Bob” realized at this time that his responsibility was not only for the family of his master, but for all else in which he was interested. Quietly he set to work gathering valuable papers, institute records, family silver, and other valuables in order that they might be preserved. Rumors which arrived caused him to hesitate as to where to store them, when he thought of the solitary grave. Without hesitating he set to work digging up the remains of the old comrade and placed his collection at the bottom of the grave. He then returned the horse to its resting place.

The Yankees were properly suspicious that Old Bob was a master-loyal slave that dug a fake grave to conceal buried treasure. Despite Old Bob’s warnings that  the horse carcass was badly corrupted, they ordered him to dig until they were satisfied the hole contained nothing valuable. When Old Bob’s diggings got down to the carrion, the stench prompted the troopers into ordering him to refill the hole. Readers can find the  complete story at Relics and Bones

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North Carolina’s Endless Penance

(June 14, 2019) North Carolina appears resigned to the perpetual self-flagellation demanded by the politically correct for her historical sins, real and imagined. Thirteen years ago in 2006 America’s cultural elite delighted at a chance to condemn her for her supposed endemic racism evidenced in the Duke LaCrosse rape case. As athletic white males, playing a fashionable collegiate game, and students at a prestigious Southern university, the three defendants were the archetypical villains required by an agenda-driven media.  Simultaneously, a biased press welcomed the opportunity to portray the black accusing prostitute as a struggling single-mom and college student forced into degrading work by a Southern society that gave her no other option. In short, she could be portrayed as a victim of a protracted plantation society.

Consequently, the accused were immediately convicted in the court of public opinion. Within three weeks, 88 Duke professors signed a student newspaper advertisement condemning the LaCrosse players. Nearly every mainstream media outlet, even within North Carolina, denounced the boys. Accuracy in media largely defaulted K. C. Johnson’s then-anonymously authored “Durham in Wonderland” blog. Most regrettably, mob outrage corrupted reelection-seeking prosecutor Mike Nifong who conspired to withhold exculpatory DNA evidence, which led to his disbarment. Mob impulse and Nifong’s lies tested—nearly to its breaking point—North Carolina’s judicial resolve to avoid a rush to judgement. 

Fortunately, the courts resisted vigilante justice and the boys were acquitted. In contrast, accuser Crystal Mangum has failed to live up to her popular image as a victimized single mom. She is presently in jail. In 2010 she was arrested for attempted murder after her nine-year-old daughter phoned the police to intervene in a domestic disturbance. Convicted of a lesser charge Mangum was once again arrested in 2013 and convicted of second degree murder. She was never held to account for her false rape accusations.

Having failed to tag twenty-first century North Carolina as a plantation society in the Duke LaCrosse case, the politically correct more recently turned to the state’s Confederate statues. The best example was last year’s mob toppling of Silent Sam at the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina. When UNC grad student Adam Domby discovered in 2011 that one of the six Silent Sam dedication speakers boasted of a racist incident he used it to fuel smoldering anti-statue sentiment.

Specifically, Confederate veteran Julian Carr (1845 – 1924) bragged that at age 19 he horse-whipped an African-American “wench until her skirts hung in shreds [because] she publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.” Consequently, a year after the mob removal, the UNC Board of Governors has yet to replace the statue as required by state law. Evidently they prefer to keep it down as a form of self-flagellation for the typical Confederate soldier’s sin of defending his homeland.

While Carr’s 1865 conduct is indefensible, it is not the whole story.

First, there were five other statue dedication speakers, none of whom mentioned race. An honest appraisal of all remarks given that day can only lead to the conclusion that Silent Sam was meant to honor the students who sacrificed themselves for a call to duty. Another speaker and then-Governor Locke Craig put it this way: “[T]he soul of the beholder will determine the revelation of its [Sam’s] meaning.”

Second, it appears that neither Domby nor anyone in the UNC History Department bothered to learn anything more about Carr. Perhaps like prosecutor Nifong they didn’t want the truth but only information that would support their objective. If they had looked deeper, they would have quickly discovered that Carr was a major North Carolina business leader and philanthropist who was often politically progressive. Susan B. Anthony, for example, praised him for supporting women’s voting rights. He gave generously to colleges including Duke University and UNC. He was also a benefactor for the Training School for Colored People in Augusta, Georgia.

Carr was among the first Southern textile mill owners to employ blacks in production work as opposed to maintenance. His in-state donations to black education included the North Carolina College for Negroes, presently known as North Carolina Central University (NCCU). The school’s black founder praised Carr: “I have never known the first time for him to fail to give to any enterprise which he thought would benefit the colored people or to lend his influence in their behalf. . .  I have known scores and scores of colored people who were the recipients of his kindness and generosity. . . I have never known a colored person too poor or ignorant who went to General Carr for assistance who did not receive the same.”

Since the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors will ultimately determine Silent Sam’s future, it may be noted that four of them have connections to NCCU. One is a NCCU graduate and another is currently a NCCU student. A third was once Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance at NCCU and a fourth is on the Board of the NCCU Law School.  All, therefore, are connected to a historically black school which Julian Carr helped launch and sustain.

Carr also helped black educator Willam Gaston Pearson who was born a slave in 1858 and worked as a youth at the Carr Factory. Carr recognized his potential and financed his education at Shaw University where Pearson graduated in 1886 at age 28. Thereafter, Pearson began teaching in Durham. In 1922 he became principal of Durham’s Hillside Park High School. In 1931, Hillside was accredited by the Southern Association of Secondary School and Colleges, a major achievement for a black high school during the Great Depression. Pearson also made other major business, religious, and educational contributions to the Durham community.

As indicated by Carr’s conflicting conduct and elsewhere, Southern race relations were often inscrutable for a hundred years after the Civil War. Academics would do better to investigate those nuances for meaning instead of endlessly seeking incremental reasons to condemn the earlier Southerner for being a man of his time and place.

As they decide Silent Sam’s future, perhaps UNC Board Members will ponder the words of one Confederate mother’s thoughts about the fallen sons such statues represent:

What need of question now, whether he was wrong or right?
He wields no warlike weapons now, returns no foeman’s thrust
Who but a coward would revile an honest soldier’s dust?

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Who Causes Change?

(June 12, 2019) Yesterday Andrew Klavan interviewed ninety-four-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Harry T. Stewart who was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen group of black fighter pilots during World War II. Klavan admired how Stewart successfully pursued his goals during the years that bridged from segregation to the present. Although Stewart was aware of racism in the early part of his career he navigated through it as it gradually crumbled. He especially appreciated the whites who helped him along the way during the period of segregation, beginning with the Tuskegee flight instructors. When Klavan asked the retired airman to share advice for today’s youth he said, “I’d tell ’em to keep their eye on the prize.”

After Stewart had moved off stage Klavan addressed his audience with a personal reflection. He said, “I have a theory that it is not the social activists that effect change.” It is men like Harry. After guys like Harry have done the job its “easy for Hollywood actors to speak out, shout, parade and pretend to be heroes” but they are merely “riding the tides of change.” People like Harry had already done the job without grandstanding or whining.

Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Harry T. Stewart.

Grandstanders are ineffective for two reasons. First, they’re latecomers. The real work is already done. Second, they’re outsiders. They are not really Theodore Roosevelt’s metaphorical “man in the arena” who deserves the credit.

Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King and Robert Owens* were black men “in the arena.” They lived all of their lives in the South. They experienced first-hand the dynamics of a racially mixed society; One centered in an underprivileged region in which they were a large  but underprivileged minority.

In contrast, James McPherson, Eric Foner, and David Blight are latecomers and outsiders. By comparison to the three blacks noted above, they know nothing of the South. McPherson was from North Dakota and deliberately avoided his dissertation advisor’s recommendation to study Alabama reconstruction because he did not want to go to Alabama. Foner had access to any kind of education or career he wanted merely by getting off at different subway stop. Aside from his readings, Foner knows the South about as well as a cotton picker from Toad Suck, Arkansas knows New York. The economic privileges of Blight’s Flint, Michigan hometown steadily dwindled after he went to college because the Rust Belt lost its tariff protection. Fisher Body could no longer prosper by providing mere cosmetic innovations to automobiles.

McPherson, Foner, Blight and their acolytes are merely “riding the tides of change” when they demand that Confederate statues be removed. The professors did not end racism. The Southern white supremacy groups they fear are as rare, and small, as fresh water wells in Death Valley. They are phantoms which, like Don Quixote, the statue critics think “might be giants.” In reality, blacks started moving back to the South only a few years after McPherson and Foner published their signature books thirty-two years ago.

Finally, the professors either have—or pretend to have—no comprehension for the statue interpretations of Confederate descendants. They are like Klavan’s Hollywood entertainers who “speak out, shout, parade and pretend to be heroes” after racial attitudes have already changed. The only thing modern historians have changed is freedom of speech.  They silence anyone who disagrees with their understandings of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Even though the senior academics in charge during their formative years allowed them to challenge then-contemporary interpretations, they now censor opinions contrary to their own. As always, it is those in power who censor, which they do for a single reason: to retain power.

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* Robert Owens is the grandfather of political commentator Candace Owens. She credits him with teaching her the morality she values.

Tolerance

(June 11, 2019) The photograph below was taken in Richmond on April 3, 1905, which was fortieth anniversary of the fall of the Confederate capital. Notwithstanding that 100,000 or more Confederate veterans were still living and despite today’s popular impression of Jim Crow totalitarianism, the picture shows many Richmond blacks marching without fear to celebrate Emancipation.

Richmond Blacks Marching in 1905 to Celebrate the Fortieth Anniversary of the fall of Confederate Richmond

Excerpted below are remarks from a contemporary white-owned newspaper summary of the march:

Negroes Cheered “Dixie” on Their Emancipation Anniversary. Nearly every colored man, woman and child in Richmond, and the surrounding territory, took part in or viewed the big emancipation parade yesterday.

The crowd was orderly and was the subject of favorable comments from all who saw the line as it passed along to the music from several bands. The parade consumed something like twenty minutes in passing a given point, and was made up of various negro clubs and societies. An amusing incident was the cheering of “Dixie” on this occasion.

After the principal streets of the city had been marched over the crowds centered in the ball park, where the orators addressed the multitude on the subject most in mind. . .  Last night there was a banquet of the leaders at Price’s Hall, and at True Reformer’s Hall and a colored opera company held forth. The colored hotels and boarding houses were full to overflowing with excursionists and the ward was a dense mass of people all day and far into the night.

Late in the afternoon a party of disorderly negroes got in a fight on Cary Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets. The row created some excitement, and four of the negroes were arrested and carried to the Second Station. The men engaged in the fight were on holiday and it was stated that the fight arose over comments on the parade. This was the only affair of the kind that marred one of the largest negro demonstrations the city ever saw.

Although Jim Crow restrictions were a reality in the 1905 South, Richmond’s black Emancipation march shows that the era was not as tyrannical as many modern historians indicate. In reality, Southern society inscrutably contained contradictory elements of good will and intolerance toward blacks. Thankfully, Jim Crow has long been abandoned.

Unfortunately, it has been replaced by an intolerance toward Confederate memory and hatred of anyone wishing to defend it. Notwithstanding, that nearly all monuments to her soldiers were erected chiefly to honor their defense of home & hearth, today’s cultural demonizes them as racist. Moreover, the elite demand that soldier statutes be censored by removing them, or at least “re-contextualized” so that Johnny Reb may redefined as wicked.

In today’s society it the elites—media, Hollywood, academics—that boast of their tolerance and inclusion who are actually intolerant and exclusive. They have switched roles with the hsitorical bigots they condemn, although they have not the excuse of living in an earlier time, under different mores. Just imagine, for example, the cultural outrage that would greet any effort by Confederate descendants to hold a march in 2019 Richmond, or most any sizable Southern city.

It is always those in power who censor, which they do for a solitary reason: to retain power.

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Contraband Concentration Camps

(June 10, 2019) Less than two months after the Civil War started, Union Major General Benjamin Butler declared three escaped slaves “contraband” of war. It yielded justification for his refusal to return them to their master. Lincoln’s Congress picked-up the precedent and strengthened it with laws over the next year or so. As a result, captured or escaped slaves were permitted to stay behind Union lines. In a legal sense they were not “free,” but neither would they be forced to return to slavery.

As their number grew, however, they were concentrated into contraband camps. When established, such camps were usually located near Union armies. By the end of the war there were about one hundred such camps throughout the South. But due to unhealthy living conditions and inadequate medical care, they were also death traps. Mortality averaged about 25%, nearly as high as the 28% of the Confederacy’s infamous Andersonville prison whose commander was executed as a war criminal after the war.*

When I referred to the internments as “Contraband Concentration Camps” at an online Civil War forum recently, you would have thought I had ordered a lynch mob to march on Maxine Waters’s office.  Evidently, some critics falsely surmised that I was implying the camps massacred blacks en-mass. Perhaps they assumed that the deliberate genocide at Nazi camps typified all historical concentration camps. Those who knew better feigned ignorance and joined the bandwagon of forum critics who smeared me as racist despite the forum’s prohibitions on ad hominem attacks.

In reality, a number of governments aside from Nazi Germany had concentration camps. America used them during World War II. Although we referred to them as “internment camps” their purpose was to concentrate persons of Japanese descent into isolated locations managed by the federal government and policed by U. S. troops. The British used them in the Second Boer War from 1900 to 1902. Closer to our Civil War, the Spanish used them sporadically for thirty years starting in 1868 during the conflicts for Cuban independence. Pictured below is a drawing of one Cuban camp during the 1890s.

Nineteenth Century Cuban Concentration Camps

Even a casual reading of the U. S. Library of Congress’s description of Cuba’s nineteenth century  “Reconcentration” policy suggests the similarities to Civil War Contraband Camps.

[The royal commander] understood very quickly that the key to a Spanish victory over the insurgents was to strip the guerrillas of their abilities to live off the land and camouflage themselves in groups of civilians. To this end, he began a policy of moving Cuban civilians to central locations where they would be under the control of the Spanish army. In addition, he put the entire island under martial law.

The policy had disastrous consequences. Unlike many concentration camps in the twentieth century, the idea was to keep the Cuban civilians alive and protected until the Spanish were victorious. Unfortunately at least 30% perished from lack of proper food, sanitary conditions, and medicines. The policy generated severe anti-Spanish feeling in the United States which helped propel it into war in 1898.

Like the Civil War contraband camps, the Spanish ones were intended to concentrate non-combatants and keep them out the fighting. The mortality rates were also similar even though neither the Cuban or Civil War camps deliberately massacred residents. The chief difference was that the contraband camps contained sympathizers of the established U. S. government whereas many of the occupants in the Cuban camps sympathized with the island’s Rebels.

In sum, considering the high mortality in the contraband camps, it broadens our perspective of the Civil War to realize that they were essentially a type of concentration camp. While they were not as wicked as the Nazi camps, they were far more nefarious than the American Japanese “Internment” camps of World War II. We should no longer permit them to be described euphemistically.

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* Gains M. Foster, “The Limitations of Federal Health Care for Freedmen, 1862 – 1868,” The Journal of Southern History, (Vol. 48, No. 3) August, 1982, 358

Saving Confederate Statues

(June 7, 2019) Politicians will stop tearing down Confederate statues when influential citizens and big donors ask them. As Donald Trump explained during his presidential campaign, in the years when he was chiefly a New York real estate developer he donated to candidates of both parties. “You had to,” he said, “in order to get things done.”

Despite their noble-sounding speeches, politicians listen to people with money and influence. Fortunately, influential civic leaders might be persuaded to protect Confederate statues if properly targeted, and approached respectfully with solid arguments. Silent Sam’s situation could be a pivotal opportunity.

First, the manner in which a student mob toppled his statue is inexcusable within respectable society.

Second, state law requires that it be replaced, although UNC law Professor Eric Muller apparently argues that vandal removal circumvents the law.

Third, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the South’s most distinguished public educational institutions and perhaps its oldest. If UNC will stand against Silent Sam’s enemies, they could give backbone to many Southern politicians.

Fourth, there are twenty-nine University of North Carolina Board of Governors members. All are prominent citizens whose opinions matter to Chapel Hill administrators. Many are wealthy. At least one is a multibillionaire.  All, or nearly all, can be approached respectfully in the following manner:

  1. Send a postal letter with a copy of Shane Anderson’s 1200-word essay on Silent Sam’s dedication. Despite the racist remarks of a single commemoration speaker, Shane shows that an honest appraisal indicates “. . . the monument was not intended as a symbol of white supremacy. It was genuinely meant to honor the students who sacrificed for what they saw as their duty, and to inspire future generations by that example.”
  2. Include a one or two sentence cover letter.
  3. Do not substitute an email for a postal letter. It is less respectful.

If you would like to participate email me here. I will send you the names of two UNC Board members to write. I will also provide you copies of Shane’s essay and form cover letter, if you decline to use your own.

Yesterday when I was reflecting upon the sacrifices that numerous twenty-year-old boys made seventy-five years ago on D-Day, a contrast struck me. Americans have always made supreme sacrifices in wartime. They often gave up their very lives to combat evil. Yet in peacetime, we are reluctant to even write a letter to oppose the wicked. We kick the can down the road until the sacrifices may once again require the very lives of our youth.

There are few greater peacetime depravities than censorship, for which Confederate statue destruction is merely a variation. It is always those in power who censor. And they do it for a single reason: to retain power.

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