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South Carolina Wants To Honor Black Confederate Soldiers But Experts Disagree

The Balitmore Sun Darkroom

The Civil War is a tricky subject in any part of the United States of America, a reminder of state sovereignty and the capability of mankind to betray and fight against their own brothers and sisters. We are where we are today because of the sacrifices of subjects who fought against injustices and demanded a better future for their families.

No matter if you are from the North or South of the country, you'll agree that there is no place where the war is as hotly debated as South Carolina. The state played a prominent role in the war for the Confederate army, and now, lawmakers want to honor some of the members who they say have gone unrecognized for too long.

State representatives Bill Chumley and Mike Burns have created legislation that would establish a monument to black soldiers who served in the Confederate Army. They both previously voted against removing the Confederate flag from the State House in 2015, until it was taken down after a white supremacist shot nine members of a Charleston church to death.

Their efforts are borne out of a desire to see the loyal contributions of soldiers recognized for their willingness to lay down their lives in support of the Confederacy.

"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.

However, many individuals have stepped up to criticize this move. In particular is Walter Edgar, who served as director of the University of South Carolina's Institute for Southern Studies for 32 years, and has even authored a book on the history of the state.

"In all my years of research, I can say I have seen no documentation of black South Carolina soldiers fighting for the Confederacy," he says. "In fact, when secession came, the state turned down free (blacks) who wanted to volunteer because they didn't want armed persons of color."

The facts seem to support this claim. Records from the South Carolina Department of History and Archives offer no evidence that any African-Americans ever received payment for fighting on the Confederate side.

But what it does mention is a relatively unknown tidbit that Chumley and Burns intend to utilize in order to pass their legislation.

The archival records do list a series of payments to black people who served in the Civil War. Just not for anyone who fought, it seems.

Over 300 black people from South Carolina apparently received pension payments from the Confederate army, for positions such as body servants and kitchen staff.

The reason for this may be the many laws that prevented African-Americans from fighting, or even bearing arms. This law wasn't repealed until the very end of the war in 1865, and there was much prejudice concerning equality amidst the ranks.

In 1860, South Carolina was populated with over 291,000 white people, while host to a further 400,000 slaves. As 45% of white families in the state owned slaves, one could understand their fear of an armed rebellion should they offer weapons to the population they had traditionally controlled.

This doesn't change the minds of the two lawmakers, who say that every member of the force is valued, and deserve to be recognized.

Other historians have pointed out the attempts made by members of the free, mixed-race South Carolinian population to join the ranks of the army. A book on the subject quotes four individuals of the "brown elite" who petitioned the governor at the time.

They wrote, "in our veins flows the blood of the white race, in some half, in others much more than half white blood ... our allegiance is due to South Carolina and in her defense, we will offer up our lives, and all that is dear to us."

Their pleas were ignored, and a law was passed that allowed military commanders to reap 10 days of labor from "free" black and mixed-race persons.

The bill to erect the statue is tied to another piece of legislation that would work towards cataloging the various contributions of these black members of the Confederacy and introduce these moments of history into the public school curriculum.

"We are all learning a lot," they said. "The purpose of the bill is education."

However the lawmakers are facing strong opposition by those who say they are trying to rewrite history and draw the focus away from the fact that many members of the Confederate army supported slavery and actively thwarted attempts of black people trying to gain civil rights.

What do you think about the statue?