Two South Carolina representatives hope to put the whole Confederate-monument controversy to rest—by memorializing the enslaved black people forced to fight for the Confederacy.
Newsweek reports that Reps. Bill Chumley and Mike Burns brought forward the idea because the contributions of black Confederates have been historically overlooked:
“This history is the truth and is being whitewashed,” Burns, who is white, told the Post-Courier. “Some of our history is good and some of our history is not so good. But they deserve to be honored for what they did on behalf of South Carolina.”
This isn’t the first time a Southern state has provoked controversy by promoting the existence of black Confederates. Back in 2010, Virginia was called to revise a fourth-grade textbook that claimed thousands of black soldiers had fought under Stonewall Jackson.
Yes, black Confederate soldiers did exist, as this 2015 article from The Root details. Frederick Douglass even wrote of them in 1861 at the Battle of First Manassas, even though black men were officially barred from enlisting for the Confederate Army until the final months of the Civil War in 1865.
But as the writer, African-American-studies professor John Stauffer, pointed out in his explainer for The Root, there were a handful of Jews who supported the Nazis, as well. One simply cannot tell the history of black Confederates—most of whom were enslaved and forced to labor or to perform menial duties for their masters on the battlefield—without talking about the coercion. “Confederates impressed slaves as laborers and at times forced them to fight. In effect, they put guns to their heads, forcing them to fire on Yankees,” Stauffer wrote.
Memorializing black Confederate soldiers with a monument does more than acknowledge their existence—a history book can do that—but as Civil War historian Kevin Levin told Newsweek, the focus on black Confederates has always been “part of a larger attempt to reinterpret the Confederacy to separate it from slavery and white supremacy.”
“In other words, if African Americans, free and enslaved, fought as soldiers in the Civil War,” Levin continued, “then you can’t say today that its primary goal was the protection of slavery and white supremacy.”
It’s clear, just a few days after a second white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., around a Robert E. Lee statue, that these South Carolina politicians want to have the Confederacy without white supremacy.
It just doesn’t work that way.
Read more at Newsweek.