The Truth May Inconvenience Our Perceptions
by Wayne Carlson
Our perceptions, whether they are accurate or false, necessarily influence those relational realities that exist in any society, at any given time. If for example, most people accept the proposition that only a Democrat, or a Republican can be elected to the U.S. Presidency, it becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy by excluding our serious consideration of any alternative candidates. Such a perception leads us to the usual ho-hum attitude we see when national debates exclude potential challengers, and media coverage offers them only token recognition and exposure to the voting public. This practice should be perceived for what it is, a grave threat to true representative government in this country, but where is the public outcry?
As serious as this problem is, and hoping at another time to expose the fixed nature of this corrupt political practice, I prefer today, to expose another misperception that has become ingrained in a sizable portion of the public conscience that threatens our ability to live in peace and social harmony with one another, especially here in the South. It is the perception that our biracial (and increasingly multiracial) society can only be understood from the historical context of white oppressors on the one hand, and black victims on the other. This widely held perception, reinforced in our educational institutions, and encouraged in the media, is a perfect formula for racial division and discord.
The histories of blacks and whites in the South are too often viewed separately, or compartmentally, rather than collectively, as members of a vast Southern society. Noted Southern historian, C. Vann Woodward, has remarked that blacks and whites have shaped each others destinies, determined each others isolation, shared and molded a common culture. It is, in fact, impossible to imagine the one without the other and quite futile to try. So why do we try? The attempt to view them separately, and in such stark contrast has led to several racial realities that hold little hope of truly making us one happily united people. In fact, many people appear afraid to even acknowledge, much less discuss some of these realities. For example, the inculcation of white guilt has led to an acceptance of an array of social programs, entitlements, and judicial, legislative, or executive actions that discriminate on the basis of race in the name of racial justice. Conversely, the cult of black victimization has led to varying levels of black hostility, suspicion, and resentment that can be seen in the misdirected attacks on the best known symbols of Southern history like the starry cross of St. Andrew (Confederate Flag), or anything else their cultish leaders deem offensive and a painful reminder of slavery.
If racial harmony is really the goal, then I suggest that current trends and our present social reality demonstrably proves that we are going in the wrong direction and that we need to re-examine what we are doing. In light of what I see as the ridiculous attacks on what is viewed as an exclusively white Confederate, or Southern past, perhaps a good place to start would be to challenge this notion that white and black Southerners have always lived in disharmony and antagonism, and cannot come together by embracing all that has been good in their shared history.
I recently finished reading a little known, but enlightening book entitled, Black Southerners In Gray. Richard Rollins, PhD in American Intellectual History from Michigan State University, and one of the books principal authors, in writing Glimpses of Invisible Men cites the work of historian J.K. Obatala, who in 1979 wrote, The Unlikely Story of Blacks who were loyal to Dixie. In this work, Obatala exposes the myth that blacks in the Confederate South did not support the Southern Cause and hailed the Northern invaders as their liberators.
One misperception Obatala challenges is the notion that great hostility always existed between whites and blacks in the South, and that racial segregation was the rule. Obatala points out that legal segregation in the form of Jim Crow laws and a heightened alienation and hostility between blacks and whites only emerged as a result of the war and during Yankee occupation and Reconstruction. Obatala goes on to explain that in 1861 many black Southerners, slave and free, throughout the South supported secession and willingly offered their services to the Confederate cause. Black Southerners viewed the Norths invasion the same way that Southern whites did, as an attack upon the rights and independence of their States. Ervin L. Jordan, Jr. in Black Virginians as Confederate Loyalists notes that black historians have routinely, and wrongly, denied the existence of black Confederate soldiers.
Indeed, I have a videotape of black historian, Dr. Edward Smith of
American University in Washington D.C., in which he points out that at least 90,000 blacks
served under arms in the Confederate armies. This long ignored, or silently suppressed
fact is only now beginning to reach the public where it can help to alter our perceptions
of the realities which existed in the Old South. It might be worth noting that in the
Southern armies, black and white men were not segregated as they were in the Northern
armies. They fought side by side with fellow Southerners. In support of this fact, perhaps
you are not aware that the first military
We have to wonder at the motives of earlier historians that ignored statements such as those by Dr. Lewis Steiner, Chief Inspector of the US Sanitary Commission, who said in 1862 while observing General Stonewall Jacksons army in Frederick, Maryland, Over 3,000 Negroes must be included in this number (Confederate troops). Most of the Negroes had arms, rifles, muskets, sabers, bowie-knives, dirks, etc. and were manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederate Army. What of famed black abolitionist Frederick Douglass remarks? He is known to have said, There are at the present moment many Colored men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants, and laborers, but real soldiers, having musket on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets
Rudolph Young, in writing recently about Black Confederates In Lincoln County, North Carolina says, Students of African American history should have been able to predict with a great degree of certainty that some, if not most, black Southerners would support their country, as did most white Southerners. During the Revolutionary War, black and white fought together, on both sides. In 1861, most blacks found themselves as residents of a country called The Confederate States of America. Most blacks served because of loyalty to their country or loyalty to an individual. He goes on to say that, there was no stigma attached to having served in the Confederate army among African-Americans in the years following the war, but as time passed, attitudes changed.
I suggest that this changed attitude is the crux of the whole problem we are seeing today in the South. These attitudes are largely the product of historical ignorance and the political demagoguery of those that rule through the maxim of divide and conquer. I believe that black and white Southerners can still unite together by rejecting the falsehoods of anti-Southern historicism, and recognizing that our real enemies are those that would destroy the Christian foundations, and political principles on which this country was founded, and which the Southern Confederacy sought to maintain.
We must come to understand that slavery can come in many forms and under many names. It may still be of a physical nature, best represented today perhaps by imprisonment. What kind of a society imprisons 2 million of its people? Is not media propaganda, government indoctrination of our school children, and mandatory sensitivity training a form of intellectual or mental slavery? Cant we become slaves to our passions, our fears, or any series of misconceptions and falsehoods on which we act? Can we not be legislated into slavery, or simply taxed into it? If many blacks recoil in horror at the thought of tens of thousands of black Confederates fighting and dying under the Confederate Battle Flag 135 years ago, it may just show the extent of their indoctrination, their alienation with the past, and the magnitude of the challenge Southerners face in ending racial hostility.
We can take some solace in the fact that more and more people, white and black, are beginning to talk about black Confederates. For example, in an article written by Scott Williams entitled, On Black Confederates, he mentions Terri Williams, a black journalist for the Suffolk Virginia Pilot newspaper. She writes, I had to re-examine my feelings toward the (Confederate) flag when I read a newspaper article about an elderly black man whose ancestor worked with the Confederate forces. The man spoke with pride about his family members contribution to the cause and was photographed with the (Confederate) flag draped over his lap. Thats why I now have no definite stand on just what the flag symbolizes, because it no longer is their history, or my history, but our history.
In closing I would share with you a bit of wisdom from Thomas Paine, author of the pamphlet Common Sense that helped to convince the colonists in 1776 to forge their own destiny as an independent nation. He once wrote, Reason obeys itself, and ignorance does whatever is dictated to it. Southerners should take heed. I pray that we can find a way to unite under the wisdom found in Jeremiah 6: 16, Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. Perhaps we can find our way out of the maze we are in by searching out the ancient paths that serviced our forefathers so well. Deo Vindice.