The Myth of Black Confederates Persists






"This is a fiction," Fergus M. Bordewich, renowned historian and author of five nonfiction books, told The Root about the latest rancorous debate about black Confederates that comes as the nation's commemoration of the Civil War's 150th anniversary continues.

"It's a myth," continued Bordewich, author of Washington: The Making of the American Capital and Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America. "It is nonsense. I could be blunter than that, but you get the drift. It's a meaningless term, 'black Confederates.' There is no evidence whatsoever from any responsible source that there was more than the occasional slave who was forced to serve in the war."

Bordewich is not alone in his position. Top-ranking scholars have repeatedly torpedoed the myth, including Bruce Levine, the renowned professor of African-American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Edwin Bearss, historian emeritus at the National Park Service; and Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, editor-in-chief of The Root and chair of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute. Yet it persists. 

Gates weighed in on the issue in a quote that appeared in a column by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor and blogger at Atlantic Magazine, several weeks ago. " 'I would worry if anything I wrote lent credence to the notion that tens of thousands of black men served as soldiers in the Confederate Army,' " Gates said of the bloody four-year battle, fought from 1861 to 1865. "No black rebel units ever fought Union forces, although many slaves fought alongside their owners, and thousands more were compelled to labor for the Confederacy, rebuilding rail lines or construction fortifications."...



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