Two Republican politicians are trying to honor the African Americans who served South Carolina as Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. In fact, the lawmakers even put forward a proposal to erect a monument on the State House grounds.
It may appear to be a very kind gesture, but there is a twist:
South Carolina never accepted or recognized armed black soldiers during the time, which means black Confederate soldiers never existed.
As per the proposed legislation filed by State Reps. Bill Chumley (R-Spartanburg) and Mike Burns (R-Greenville) last month, a commission would be formed to establish a monument dedicated to black Confederate veterans.
Both lawmakers had voted against the removal of the Confederate flag — a symbol of white supremacy — from the State House grounds in 2015 following self-professed white supremacist Dylann Roof’s massacre that killed nine parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
There is no evidence to support the theory that soldiers of color accompanied Southern whites, who were against abolishing slavery, during the Civil War.
“In all my years of research, I can say I have seen no documentation of black South Carolina soldiers fighting for the Confederacy,” said historian Walter Edgar, the author of “South Carolina: A History.”
“In fact, when secession came, the state turned down free [blacks] who wanted to volunteer because they didn’t want armed persons of color,” added Edgar, who also worked as the director of the University of South Carolina’s Institute for Southern Studies for 32 years.
The records obtained from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History suggested no black Confederate soldier received payment for combat service. Under the Confederate law, African Americans were not allowed to carry guns until 1865, at the very end of the conflict, when African Americans fought in states such as Virginia and Texas but not in South Carolina.
According to the documents, in 1923, more than 300 blacks were allowed in the Confederate Army, but they only served as cooks, buglers or servants.
Chumley and Burns, who have been defenders of the Confederate flag for a long time, seemed least bothered about the facts and responded casually.
“We don’t see that’s a problem,” Chumley said, referring to the lack of evidence of armed black Confederate soldiers. “If they served in the Confederate Army, they deserve to be recognized.”
He further clarified the monument would honor all men of color who served the Confederacy in any capacity. The lawmakers also filed a companion bill to form a commission to recognize the contributions of African Americans in the bloodiest conflict in the history of U.S. and include their service in public school curriculum to educate children.
“While there is representation of those African Americans from South Carolina who took up arms for the Union, there is nothing to show the contributions, sacrifices and honor of their Confederate counterparts,” the bill states.
“The purpose of the bill is education,” Chumley explained.
Yet Edgar asserts those workers were either slaves or free blacks pressed into duty as unpaid labor.
Recognizing the contributions of people from any class, color or creed is a humble act. However, building a monument to people who never existed does not make any sense.
Thumbnail/Banner: JASON MICZEK/REUTERS