Blacks Who Support Black Confederate Mythology

There's a good conversation going in this thread on black lay historians who support the myth of black Confederates. I think the first thing is to realize that many of these African-Americans are, themselves, Southerners. I don't know that we appreciate how much whites and blacks in the South share in common. It's very different than, say, Jamaican Americans in Crown Heights and Hasidic Jews. 

Springing from that, I would argue that Lost Cause-ism is, to some extent, fueled by a desire to have something of your own, and resentment at the manner in which Southerners are often caricatured in media. I would argue that there are some African-Americans who share that same resentment.

But more than that there is the manner in which the Civil War has been offered to African-Americans. The "Brother against Brother" narrative generally writes black people out of the story as agents and, at best, leaves them as objects. Very few African-Americans have much interest in the Civil War because we generally don't think it's about us.

Part of this is the incredible success of the Lost Cause. When I cracked Battle Cry of Freedom, I knew that slavery was part of what caused the War--but I was very open to the idea that it wasn't the whole reason. By about page 250 or so, I couldn't believe I'd ever thought anything else. The case is so damning in so many ways. It really makes you wonder what, precisely, happens in American history classes.
On a deeper level, I think I almost wanted it to not be about slavery. 600,00 Americans died in the Civil War--more than all other wars we've fought in combined. To offer some comparison, 25,000 people died in the Revolutionary War. A conflict so intense that it causes the death of two percent of this country's population must have incredibly deep roots. It must say something larger about the society, itself. I would have much rathered it be true that Lee was against slavery, that blacks fought for the Confederacy. In that narrative, we can all simply say that the country went insane for a moment, and then it got better.

But the absence of black Confederates--and the reasons why there could never have been any substantial black Confederate force--are actually quite disturbing to many black people. It, once again, reminds us that a country we all love, was once tied to our peonage and that the echoes of those ties will likely always be with us. It's very hard to reconcile yourself to that. 

We'd like to go to Nathan Bedford Forrest state park, like every one else, have a picnic, enjoy the view, and never have to think about what it all means. The notion that Forrest had a black honor guard made up of "the best of the best" makes that possible. It gives us a place in Valhalla, and allows us to have the choice of becoming American, in the way that white people are Americans. 

It's like taking to the blue pill. No black person really wants to be conscious of all that happened here. The true nature of the Civil War just makes it that much harder to feel at home.
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in National

From This Author

Just In