Lies Damn Near Everyone Told Me

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...but you check out the books they own.
-Chuck D

The Takeaway updated their segment on Black Confederates this morning. I appreciate them going back at it, but it must be said that their treatment really didn't go past a "Teach The Controversy" approach. I really wish they'd been as skeptical and probing in their queries with Nelson Winbush and George Armstrong yesterday, as they were with Kevin Levin today. (Listen to yesterday's conversation here and compare.) I think the saddest thing about the segment is that the hosts seemed to believe that there is an actual controversy, and a listener could very easily conclude the same. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I strongly suspect that, by their own standards, this is an episode (both parts) that they will come to regret.


It's rather fascinating when you lay it all out. Let's leave aside the excellent research of Bruce Levine. (Here's his book. Here's his piece from the Washington Post.) Let's leave aside Kevin and the incredible site he's assembled, all of based in fact. Let's say you aren't convinced by any of that. James McPherson is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian at Princeton University. I can't really imagine looking at that dude, and all the research he's done, and saying, "Meh. Some guy on the corner told me different."

And it gets deeper. As the Takeaway's hosts pointed out, none other then Henry Louis Gates--chair of the black studies department at Harvard--has endorsed this myth. If Neal Degrasse Tyson is endorsing creationism what chance do laypeople, and even journalists, really have?

At the core of this is a very difficult truth--the Civil War was about slavery. More than that, the Confederacy was erected with the aim of creating a country where white supremacy could flourish and where blacks would constitute an imprisoned laboring class in perpetuity. The difference between the Dukes of Hazzard Confederacy and the actual Confederacy is so vast that when laid bare, it inspires disbelief.



If you had told me before I began this research that 30,000 blacks fought for the Confederacy, I would not have been surprised. That was me barely four years ago. People fight against what we perceive to be their own interest all the time, right? Even being black, even being skeptical, I really had no sense of how deeply the Confederacy was rooted in the explicit and outright domination of black people. Not some amorphous "people of color." Specifically black people.

No one, not even the nationalists, had told me to read Mississippi's declaration of secession:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

No one told me to read the words of the Vice-President of the Confederacy:

The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew." Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth...

And no one told me to read Howell Cobb:

You cannot make soldiers of slaves, or slaves of soldiers. The day you make a soldier of them is the beginning of the end of the Revolution. And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.

I am telling you now--check out the books they own. It is your civic duty as an American to educate yourself about the country you claim to love. This is the revolution that birthed us. And at this late date, it's shockingly evident that many of us don't really know what happened. Our media isn't even sure what happened. Scholars who are the very face of black studies in this country give license to this ignorance. 

In such times, the answer is not cynicism, but intellectual populism. We must be autodidacts. We must do for self. The weapons are readily available. Battle Cry Of Freedom is not a musty, jargon-laden, overly-academic tome. It is one of the most lucid works of history I've ever read in my life. Moreover it's authored by a master historian. It's going for .44 cents on Amazon right now. Buy it. Read it. Right now. Your ignorance is your responsibility. You have only your bonds to lose.
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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.

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