Hari Jones on Celebrating vs. Commemorating the Civil War

Hat tip to the Interpreting the Civil War blog for this.

Hari Jones is the curator of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum in Washington, DC. He is a great resource on the subject of the US Colored Troops, and gives powerful lectures on the subject. In the following video, he has some thoughtful comments on the subject of celebrating versus commemorating the Civil War:


Secession in South Carolina: Celebrate or Commemorate?

“One group held a gala ball to celebrate the 150th anniversary of South Carolina’s secession from the Union. Another contingent rallied in opposition to that ball. South Carolina is a state that is divided on how we should remember this undeniably historic event.”

So begins a discussion on South Carolina’s public affairs program Connections about whether to celebrate or commemorate South Carolina’s secession from the United States in 1860. Program host P. A. Bennett talks it over with Michael A. Allen, a public historian and member of the National Park Service; Jannie Harriot, co-chair of the African American Historical Alliance of South Carolina, executive director of the South Carolina African American Heritage Foundation; and Dr. Lonnie Randolf, president of the SC State Conference of the NAACP.

It’s nice to see a discussion that includes somebody from the National Park Service, given the NPS’ role in developing the interpretation and presentation of the War on government owned and managed sites.

Click here or on the graphic below to see the video for the program.

Scenes from the US Colored Troops Symposium at Kinston, NC

USCT Reenactors Joseph Becton and Mel Reid. This was taken at the CSS Neuse / Gov. Richard Caswell Memorial Museum State Historic Site in Kinston, NC.

I just got back from the Seventh Annual US Colored Troops Symposium in Kinston, NC. It was held in conjunction with Kinston’s Blue-Gray Civil War Living History Weekend in commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. The event included several lectures, storytelling, a dedication to Kinston/Lenoir County US Colored Troopers, and a (very loud) live weapons demonstration.

I brought a camera, but due to a battery problem, I couldn’t get it to work. I was able to use my iPhone to take a few photos, which I’ve posted here. It’s a previous generation iPhone that doesn’t take the best of pictures, but I think these came out well.

The most interesting part of the event for me was the spirited exchange that followed a presentation given by Earl Ijames, the curator of African American and Community History at the North Carolina Museum of History, on “The Myth of Black Confederates.” Ijames’ spoke about the role of NC slaves and freemen during the Civil War, including some who acted like soldiers – although Ijames noted that he didn’t use the term “black Confederate soldier” in his talk. Ijames was immediately followed by Asa Gordon, the Secretary General of the Sons and Daughters of United States Colored Troops, who challenged the notion of the widespread existence of willing and loyal black Confederates. This is clearly a very controversial subject, and I expect we’ll see more discussions like this as the War’s sesquicentennial observance continues.

Although there wasn’t a huge turnout, I was heartened to see this much participation in a Civil War related event from what was largely a black audience. I am not yet sure that African Americans are taking an interest – great or small – in the War or its 150th anniversary, notwithstanding academics, professional historians and archivists, and War hobbyists who will always follow this subject. This was a good way to garner more attention and enthusiasm for what is an essential part of American history in general, and African American history in particular. The symposium was produced by Kinston’s Cultural Heritage Museum, which is dedicated to the commemoration of the role of blacks in the military, especially colored troops (and white Union soldiers) during the Civil War; and to other aspects of African American history.

Cannon at the Kinston-Lenoir County Visitors and Information Center

Colored Soldier Figurines. The figure at the rear is the ever-elusive Black Confederate Soldier.

The Littlest Trooper
Continue reading

Training School for Wives and Mothers, Baton Rouge, LA, 1888

This photograph is from the book “In Christ’s Stead”: Autobiographical Sketches, which is the memoir of Joanna P. Moore, a white missionary who dedicated her life to improving the condition of African Americans in the South. A summary of the book is here.

This is from the book, which tells of how Moore’s training school in Baton Rouge was shut down:

After the close of the school at Point Coupee, I moved with all my belongings to Baton Rouge, where I opened under promising auspices a school which I hoped might be permanent, but which continued but two years and a half.

I was very enthusiastic, as were also all the teachers associated with me. The Women’s Baptist Home Mission Society paid my salary and that of Miss Button while she was with me. Besides this expenses were provided for by God who thus set the seal of His approval on the work.

While in Baton Rouge I received one hundred dollars from the Happy Thought League, under the care of Mrs. P. G. McCollin, who is now in heaven. That money came in a time of great need. I would weary my reader if I told of the many answers to prayer in so many ways during my short pilgrimage. The money came pouring in, so that I had $2,000 in my hands with which to purchase the home in which my school was held, but the bargain was not closed when all my hopes were shattered and my school destroyed. This is the sad part of my story. God help me to tell it wisely, kindly, and truthfully.

I find among my records a conversation I had with one of my pupils about two months after this calamity:

“Sister Moore, is our school for colored women really closed?” “Yes, my scholars all went home, and so far I find it impossible to have them return.”

“Why did any one disturb your school?” “I cannot tell; I thought everything was peace and safety. I did not think any of the white people had very serious objections to my school.”

“What was in the notice put on your gate?” “There were the emblems of death–a skull and cross-bones and the notice stated that I was ordered by the ‘White League’ to close my school and leave the place.”

“Why did they do such a cruel thing when we were having such a blessed, quiet school and not molesting any one?” “The reason given in the notice is exactly in these words, ‘You are trying to educate the niggers to consider themselves the equals of the white people.'”

“Oh, I am so sorry! What do the white people mean? If we steal or fight they punish us, and then when some one comes to tell us in a kind loving way how to be good and do right, then they want to drive her away.”

“I don’t understand it myself, all that seems to be now in my power, is to ask the Lord to open some other door by which my dear women may get an education, and be taught the Bible and the duties of home life.”

“What did you do when you found the notice at your gate?” “I got my bonnet and went down town and showed it to three or four of the best white people in town.”

“What did they say?” “They were indignant, and said it was an outrage, and promised they would do what they could do to protect me. I also showed it to the mayor and other officials, and they promised the same.”

“Have they made any effort to find the guilty persons?” “I don’t know that they have.”

“Oh, Miss Moore, what will become of the colored people?” “God will take care of them, my dear child, if not on earth, there is a safe place up in heaven. Persecutions are a part of the bargain God makes with His children. Let us be patient. God knows it all, and Rom. 8:28 is true. “All things work together for good to them that love God.” This trouble will in some way work together for good. We must trust God’s promises.”

The above is a sample of many conversations with my women.

The photo is from an online version of the book at the University of North Carolina’s Documenting the American South website. It is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which had made it available to be freely used by individuals for research, teaching and personal use.

What’s My Name?

Since they were first brought to the shores of America, people of African descent have struggled with issues of identity.

Africans who came to America were de-cultured of their language, religion, family practices, and other customs and behaviors of their homelands. Their role as slaves led to them being seen as genetically inferior, Biblically shamed, docile, childlike, dishonorable, and otherwise degraded. Even free blacks were seen as inferiors who were denied citizen rights and subjected to discrimination. For almost all of their time in America, the identity of African descendants was established and controlled by European Americans, in a way that seemed to always work to the disadvantage of African peoples, and eventually, the growing number of people of mixed African and European descent.

One consequence of this history has been an ongoing controversy within the African descent “community” over an appropriate collective name for themselves. Should they “accept” titles that had been chosen for them by whites, or should they choose a name that represents their own views and concept of themselves? And what is their own concept of themselves, anyway?

These questions and issues are reflected in the following comments from African descent persons that go back to the antebellum era, and come forward to today. They end with a salient note from W.E.B. DuBois, a leader of the “New Negro” movement, who tells a high school student “it is not the name — it’s the Thing that counts. Come on, Kid, let’s go get the Thing!”

Well, not only “colored”…

“A Subscriber” has suggested the appropriateness of the term “Afric-American.” The suggestion is as absurd as the sound of the name is inharmonious. It is true that we should have a distinct appellation we being the only people in America who feel all the accumulated injury which pride and prejudice can suggest. But sir, since we have been so long distinguished by the title “men of color,” why make this change, so uncouth and jargon-like? A change we do want and a change we will have. When it comes, we shall be called citizens of the United States and Americans.

The Liberator, 1 Sept. 1831
Source: National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox – The Making of African American Identity: Vol. I, 1500-1865


The term “colored” is not a good one. Whenever used, it recalls to mind the offensive distinctions of color. The name “African” is more objectionable yet, and is no more correct than “Englishman” would be to a native-born citizen of the United States.

The colored citizen is an American of African descent. Cannot a name be found that will explain these two facts? I suggest one, and I beg your readers to reflect on it before you reject it as unsuitable. It is “Afric-American” or, written in one word, “Africamerican.” It asserts that most important truth, that the colored citizen is as truly a citizen of the United States as the white.

The Liberator, 24 Sept. 1831
Source: National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox – The Making of African American Identity: Vol. I, 1500-1865


That we are colored is a fact, an undeniable fact. That we are descendants of Africans is true. We affirm there is nothing in it that we need to be ashamed of, yea, rather much that we may be proud of.

For ourselves we are quite well satisfied. And we intend, in all our public efforts, to go to the power-holding body and tell them, “Colored as we are, black though we may be, yet we demand our rights, the same rights other citizens have.”

The Colored American, 6 or 13 March 1841
Source: National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox – The Making of African American Identity: Vol. I, 1500-1865


“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “It means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master–that’s all.”
–Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

More concretely, within the context of the racial looking glass, the question is whether one can make the word “Negro” mean so many different things or whether one should abandon it and use the words “black” or “Afro-American.”

This question is at the root of a bitter national controversy over the proper designation for identifiable Americans of African descent. (More than 40 million “white” Americans, according to some scholars, have African ancestors.) A large and vocal group is pressing an aggressive campaign for the use of the word “Afro-American” as the only historically accurate and humanly significant designation of this large and pivotal portion of the American population. This group charges that the word “Negro” is an inaccurate epithet which perpetuates the master-slave mentality in the minds of both black and white Americans.

An equally large, but not so vocal, group says the word “Negro” is as accurate and as euphonious as the words “black” and “Afro-American.” This group is scornful of the premises of the advocates of change. A Negro by any other name, they say, would be as black and as beautiful–and as segregated. The times, they add, are too crucial for Negroes to dissipate their energy in fratricidal strife over names.

But the pro-black contingent contends, with Humpty Dumpty, that names are of the essence of the game of power and control. And they maintain that a change in name will short-circuit the stereotyped thinking patterns that undergird the system of racism in America. To make things even more complicated, a third group, composed primarily of Black Power advocates, has adopted a new vocabulary in which the word “black” is reserved for “black brothers and sisters who are emancipating themselves,” and the word “Negro” is used contemptuously for Negroes “who are still in Whitey’s bag and who still think of themselves and speak of themselves as Negroes.”

This controversy, which rages with religious intensity from the street corners of Harlem to the campuses of Southern colleges, has alienated old friends, split national organizations and disrupted national conventions…

But it was obvious that the controversy touched deep emotions in the black community where many segments, particularly the young, are engaged in an agonizing search for self-identity and self-determination…

– Lerone Bennett, Jr., What’s In a Name? Negro vs. Afro-American vs. Black, Ebony Magazine, November 1967

We’ve gone through the names-Negro, African American, African, Black. For me that’s an indication of a people still trying to find their identity. Who determines what is black?

Director Spike Lee

Dear Sir:

I am only a high school student in my Sophomore year, and have not the understanding of you college educated men. It seems to me that since THE CRISIS is the Official Organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People which stand for equality for all Americans, why would it designate and segregate us as “Negroes,” and not as “Americans.”… The word “Negro,” or “nigger,” is a white man’s word to make us feel inferior. I hope to be a worker for my race, that is why I wrote this letter. I hope that by the time I become a man, that this word, “Negro,” will be abolished.

Roland A. Barton

My dear Roland: Continue reading

Please Choose One…

US Census Results, 1790; Source: US Census Bureau
The “All other free persons” column provides a count of free African Americans

Mixed Race Studies.org, a blog/website for “scholarly perspectives on the mixed race experience,” has a listing of the racial categories that have been used on the US Census. The names of the racial categories for people of African descent have changed much over the years; refer to the italicized items in the list.

US Census Race Categories, 1790-2010 (US Census Race Categories as Listed on Survey Forms, 1790-2010)

1790-Free White Males; Free White Females; All Other Free Persons; Slaves
1800-Free White Males; Free White Females; All Other Free Persons, except Indians Not Taxed; Slaves
1810-Free White Males; Free White Females; All Other Free Persons; except Indians Not Taxed; Slaves
1820-Free White Males; Free White Females; Free Colored Persons, All other persons, except Indians Not Taxed; Slaves
1830-Free White Persons; Free Colored Persons; Slaves
1840-Free White Persons; Free Colored Persons; Slaves
1850Black; Mulatto [a]
1860Black; Mulatto; (Indian) [b],
1870-White; Black; Mulatto; Chinese; Indian
1880-White; Black; Mulatto; Chinese; Indian
1890-White; Black; Mulatto; Quadroon; Octoroon; Chinese; Japanese; Indian
1900-White; Black; Chinese; Japanese; Indian
1910-White; Black; Mulatto; Chinese; Japanese; Indian; Other
1920-White; Black; Mulatto; Indian; Chinese; Japanese; Filipino; Hindu; Korean; Other
1930-White; Negro; Mexican; Indian; Chinese; Japanese; Filipino; Hindu; Korean; (Other races, spell out in full)
1940-White; Negro; Indian; Chinese; Japanese; Filipino; Hindu; Korean; (Other races, spell out in full)
1950-White; Negro; Indian; Japanese; Chinese; Filipino; (Other race-spell out)
1960-White; Negro; American Indian; Japanese; Chinese; Filipino; Hawaiian; Part-Hawaiian; Aleut Eskimo, etc.
1970-White; Negro or Black; American Indian; Japanese; Chinese; Filipino; Hawaiian; Korean; Other (print race)
1980-White; Negro or Black; Japanese; Chinese; Filipino; Korean; Vietnamese; American Indian; Asian Indian; Hawaiian; Guamanian; Samoan; Eskimo; Aleut; Other (specify)
1990-White; Black or Negro; American Indian; Eskimo; Aleut; Chinese; Filipino; Hawaiian; Korean; Vietnamese; Japanese; Asian Indian; Samoan; Guamanian; Other API (Asian or Pacific Islander); Other race
2000-White; Black, African American, or Negro; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian Indian; Chinese; Filipino; Japanese; Korean; Vietnamese; Native Hawaiian; Guamanian or Chamorro; Samoan; Other Asian (Print Race); Other Pacific Islander (Print Race); Some other race (Print Race)
2010-White; Black, African American, or Negro; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian Indian; Chinese; Filipino; Japanese; Korean; Vietnamese; Native Hawaiian; Guamanian or Chamorro; Samoan; Other Asian (Print Race); Other Pacific Islander (Print Race); Some other race (Print Race) [c]
Note. Categories are presented in the order in which they appeared on schedules.

[a] ln 1850 and 1860, free persons were enumerated on schedules for “free inhabitants”; slaves were enumerated on schedules designated for “slave inhabitants.” On the free- inhabitants schedule, instructions to enumerators read, in part: “In all cases where the person is white leave the space blank in the column marked ‘Color.’ ”

[b] Although “Indian” was not listed on the Census schedule, the instructions read: “ ‘Indians’-lndians not taxed are not to be enumerated. The families of Indians who have renounced tribal rule, and who under State or Territorial laws exercise the rights of citizens, are to be enumerated. In all such cases write ‘Ind.’ opposite their names, in column 6, under heading ‘Color.’ ”

• M. Nobles. History counts: a comparative analysis of racial/color categorization in US and Brazilian Censuses. Amercan Journal of Public Health. 2000;90:1738-45.
• University of Virginia. United States Historical Census Data Browser.

[c] 2010Census.gov

The ‘Lost Cause’ Version of Slavery: It’s a Wonderful Life

The Master’s House: Wish you were here.
Source for this and other images: Social Life in Old Virginia Before the War, from the University of North Carolina’s Documenting the American South website


The Lost Cause is the name commonly given to a literary and intellectual movement that sought to reconcile the traditional white society of the Southern United States to the defeat of the Confederate States of America in the Civil War of 1861–1865. Those who contributed to the movement tended to portray the Confederacy’s cause as noble and most of the Confederacy’s leaders as exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry, defeated by the Union armies not through superior military skill, but by overwhelming force. They also tended to condemn Reconstruction.

Some of the main tenets of the Lost Cause movement were that… Slavery was a benign institution, and the slaves were loyal and faithful to their benevolent masters…
Lost Cause of the Confederacy, Wikipedia

What is this ‘Lost Cause’ stuff, anyway? Those who are not into the history or historiography of the Civil War might wonder what all of the fuss is about.

The Lost Cause ‘viewpoint’ or ‘interpretation,’ simply put, is a way of looking at things – a pro-Confederate way of looking at history, which glorifies the Confederacy; tends to demonize the Union in general and certain people in the Union in particular; and marginalizes the role of slaves and slavery before and during the Civil War. This view was created after the Civil War, and aspects of it have persisted ever since.

The ways that slaves and slavery have been represented by Lost Causers in art and literature have drawn the interest of historians. In his book The Planter’s Prospect: Privilege & Slavery in Plantation Painting, John Michael Vlach’s comments that prior to the Civil War,

“When planters commissioned paintings… they opted for pictures that confirmed their own centrality and the slaves marginality, works of art that by and large managed to conceal the presence of the black majority [on plantations]. Artists who were aiming to capture the scenic beauties of an agricultural setting found they could simply ignore the armies of enslaved laborers that lived and worked on plantations. Slaves were basically painted out of the picture. What, the artists might have argued, could such a lowly, even barbaric, element contribute? Out in the fields, blacks were controlled with the lash; inside the picture frame, they could be controlled with a paintbrush.

Before the war, slaves were seen as “debased” and “detestable,” “brutish animals” that were “unworthy subject(s) for a work of art,” says Vlach. But after the war, “southern writers concentrated on rehabilitating the reputation of their region. They focused once again on the key elements of the plantation legend: fine houses, courtly white gentlemen, exquisitely gowned white ladies, bountiful harvests, and contented slaves.”

A poster child for this idyllic view of slavery is the 1897 book Social Life in Old Virginia Before the War, written by Thomas Nelson Page, with illustrations by Genevieve Cowles and Maude Cowles. As described by Mary Alice Kirkpatrick in her summary of the book,

Page devotes equal attention to the admirable inhabitants of the mansion, who reflect the moral perfection and godliness that permeate Page’s characterizations of southern aristocratic life. Having already provided a brief account of the external social structure governing the “servants” who, he indicates, are referred to as “slaves” only in legal reports, Page presents the authoritative and devoted “Mammy,” whose importance in running the house cannot be overestimated. Other honored family members include the butler and the carriage driver. These contented servants enjoy happiness and a “singular sweetness” throughout their lives.

The depictions of the “servants” are dignified, admirable and even touching. In the following image, a “mammy” lovingly gazes at the face of her young charge; as the grandfather of a one year old, it kind of got to me. But then I wondered who was raising this woman’s children or grandchildren…

In the next image, the butler is young, stout, and manly in stature, in contrast to the typical Uncle Tom-ish portrayal of butlers as older, submissive, and unintimidating. This butler, we are told, was often “severe” and “to be feared.” But how many slave masters would want their children to be afraid of a slave? Certainly this wasn’t a fear that was based on the threat of physical violence. I wonder how long it would be before the child in the picture would go from looking up at his servant, to looking down on him?

In his book, Page describes how wonderful slave life was:
Continue reading

US Colored Troops Symposium in Kinston, NC – March 11-13, 2011

The Seventh Annual US Colored Troops Symposium will be held in Kinston, NC, on March 11-13, 2011. The organizers of the project consider it to be the most significant gathering of historians, re-enactors, storytellers, students and heritage travelers on the subject of the USCT.

The theme of this year’s symposium is “Civil War To Civil Rights.”

The event will be at the Hampton Inn, Kinston, NC 28501, phone number 252-523-1400.

The USCT Symposium and re-enactments are free. Award Banquet ticket fees are $25 in advance, $35 at door. Those interested in attending may register for the symposium by calling 252-523-1239 or go to www.uscoloredtroops.org and download the registration forms and seminar schedule. Exhibitors and sutlers may also call 252-523-1239 or send an email to beecheagle@gmail.com .

More details are below.

Continue reading

Colored Soldier and Family, circa Civil War

Unidentified African American soldier in Union uniform with wife and two daughters
Source: Library of Congress

From the Library of Congress description of the photograph: This photo shows a soldier in uniform, a wife in dress and hat, and two daughters wearing matching coats and hats. In May 1863, U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issued General Order No. 143 creating the Bureau of U. S. Colored Troops. This image was found in Cecil County, Maryland, making it likely that this soldier belonged to one of the seven U.S.C.T. regiments raised in Maryland. (Source: Matthew R. Gross and Elizabeth T. Lewin, 2010)

More details can be found at the Library of Congress record for the photo, which is here.

This framed picture is from the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs. You can browse the entire set of photos in this online collection by starting here.