At a time when people are battling over whether to take down Confederate War statues and memorials, a pair of state lawmakers in South Carolina want to put one up.
And it wouldn’t be just another Civil War monument. It would be a monument to honor the sacrifices of black Confederate troops from South Carolina.
Problem is, historians say there weren’t any black Confederate soldiers in South Carolina.
The lawmakers, South Carolina state Reps. Bill Chumley and Mike Burns, filed a pair of bills late last year for the 2018 legislative session that would form a commission to create a monument to South Carolina’s black Confederate troops.
“This monument can help educate current and future generations of a little-known — but important — part of South Carolina history,” Burns said back in October in a statement to CNN affiliate WIS. “These African-Americans, like many of their Caucasian contemporaries, stepped up to defend their home state during a tumultuous time in our country’s history. Their service has largely been overlooked or forgotten.”
But Walter Edgar, considered to be the premier historian on all things South Carolina, said there’s no evidence there were ever any black soldiers that fought under the Confederate banner.
“In all my years of research, I can say I have seen no documentation of black South Carolina soldiers fighting for the Confederacy,” Edgar told The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. “In fact, when secession came, the state turned down free (blacks) who wanted to volunteer because they didn’t want armed persons of color.”
There were blacks in the Confederate army, but they were either slaves or free blacks forced to work without pay as cooks or servants, said Edgar, a professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina and author of “South Carolina: A History.”
The current drive by many communities across the South to remove Confederate iconography from public property flared up after the 2015 rampage killings of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina by a self-described white supremacist. After those killings South Carolina lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds.
The movement intensified last year after white supremacists and neo-Nazis rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, causing violent protests that led to the death of one counter-protester. The white nationalists went there to protest moves by the city to remove symbols of its Confederate past, including a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Since then, several states and cities across the South have taken down such monuments or ramped up efforts to do so. The most recent example was in Memphis, where the city, blocked by state law from removing memorials on public property, sold two city-owned parks that held statues of Confederate leaders to a nonprofit group. The statues were then removed last month.
A chart from the Southern Poverty Law Center shows that twice in the nation’s history there were mass movements in Southern states and cities to put up Confederate monuments. It seemed whenever America was making some racial progress, some officials responded by erecting monuments.
The first spike was around 1900, just 35 years after the end of the Civil War. By this time many states were implementing Jim Crow laws, meant to disenfranchise newly freed African Americans and prevent integration. It’s in this climate that cities and states ramped up their construction of Confederate symbols.
The second spike started in the mid-1950s and lasted through the 1960s, which just happened to coincide with the Civil Rights Movement.