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Phillip Tutor: A Southern myth debunked, again

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Phillip Tutor: A Southern myth debunked, again

Republican lawmakers in South Carolina want to erect a monument that honors that state’s black Confederate veterans of the Civil War. They might as well build shrines to Betty Crocker, Dr Pepper and Aunt Jemima.

Bigfoot and Mrs. Butterworth, too.

None of ’em exist — then or now. Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth are marketing creations. Dr Pepper is a gawdawful drink that tastes like 5w30 Valvoline mixed with sugar, not an inventor or physician. No one’s found Bigfoot. (Yet.) And black Confederate soldiers are a myth promoted by Lost Cause defenders, would-be historians and CSA flaggers desperate for faux proof that lessens the racial overtones of their causes.

It’s laughable, really. The black Confederate fable has been debunked so strongly — and so often — that it’s silly to even bring up. But South Carolina state Reps. Bill Chumley, R-Spartanburg, and Mike Burns, R-Greenville, have prefiled a bill in their Legislature that would create a commission charged with building a monument for black CSA veterans.

Facts aren’t their friends, however.

A brigade of authors, historians and professors has told newspapers in Columbia and Charleston what’s repeatedly been known: there is no historical proof that the CSA had black soldiers fighting against the Union, in that state or others. Blacks served as camp slaves, camp laborers, camp cooks and camp servants, but not as armed soldiers.

“In all my years of research, I can say I have seen no documentation of black South Carolina soldiers fighting for the Confederacy. In fact, when secession came, the state turned down free (blacks) who wanted to volunteer because they didn’t want armed persons of color,” Walter Edgar, former director of the University of South Carolina’s Institute for Southern Studies and author of South Carolina: A History, told The State newspaper in Columbia.

Kevin Levin, a historian writing a book on the black Confederate myth, told The Post and Courier of Charleston that “the stories about slaves in the war have been distorted to make them out to be soldiers. The myth of the Lost Cause allows white Southerners to reconfigure what war is about — that it’s not about slavery.”

Levin, in fact, has written in other publications about the internet’s role in propagating this untruth. Neo-Confederate groups and Southern heritage organizations have weaponized laptops and used them to distribute false claims and pictures cropped or intentionally mislabeled in an effort to “prove” these mistruths as the nation begins removing the racist imagery of Confederate statues, memorials and flags from public spaces. Even the well-told story of Mississippi slave Silas Chandler — known from a widely circulated picture of him and his white master, both wearing CSA uniforms — has been discredited. (Chandler served as a wartime body servant, not a willing soldier, records show.)

“Misinformation abounds,” Levin has written. “In 2010 a Virginia history textbook, Our Virginia: Past and Present, authored by Joy Masoff, included the claim that ‘thousands of Southern blacks fought in Confederate ranks, including two battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson.’ When asked for the source of this claim, Masoff admitted it had been discovered online after conducting a simple search. Today it is impossible to find a reputable historian who subscribes to this history.”

Back in South Carolina’s capital, pension papers from that state’s Department of History and Archives contain no records of black Confederate veterans getting paid for combat service, The State newspaper has reported. Those blacks who did receive Confederate pensions served as cooks and servants, not soldiers.

Yet, they persist.

“This history (about black Confederates) is the truth and is being whitewashed,” Rep. Burns told The Post and Courier.

It’s the CSA version of the Flat-Earth Society. There’s not a Mensa member among them. Reputable historians can’t be trusted because they’re too liberal. The Earth’s flat, Bigfoot’s real, the moon landings were faked and thousands of black soldiers fought for the CSA. Why? Because they know it. Facts be damned.

America’s divorce from public displays of the Confederacy has been a long time coming, but it’s here. Finally, and thankfully. In Memphis, in New Orleans, in Birmingham, in countless Southern cities were CSA propaganda is being moved out of public spaces. The flags are symbols the Klan stole and turned into standards of hate and intimidation. The statues were installed as not-so-subtle reminders of white supremacy. What Southern-heritage types don’t get is that lawmakers who spout fact-free claims in the name of preserving Confederate history — which has worthwhile merits — are toxic to rational discussions. Without facts, there’s nothing.

As messy as this divorce is, at least it’s happening. The quicker, the better.

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.