Nearly two years after they unsuccessfully voted against removing the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina state house grounds, two White state representatives announced legislation for a new Confederate memorial.
Republican legislators James “Mike” Burns and William “Bill” Chumley told The Post and Courier yesterday (October 9) that they will submit a bill to establish a monument for African-American soldiers in the Confederate armed forces ahead of January’s legislative session. The Post and Courier adds that this proposed monument would be “the country’s first-ever [to honor] Black soldiers who purportedly fought for the South” during the Civil War.
“This history is the truth and is being Whitewashed,” Burns told The Post and Courier. “There were freed men who actually chose to fight because they thought the South was being oppressed. It’s a shame our third- and fifth-graders don’t get to hear this side of the argument.”
The proposed monument might be new, but The Post and Courier notes that Burns’ “side” is not. Kevin Levin, a historian specializing in the Civil War, told the paper that narratives about Black Confederate soldiers are part of broader historical revisionism by Confederate sympathizers. He explained that this argument gained momentum after 1977 “Roots” miniseries, which set ratings records with its unflinching portrayal of enslaved African-Americans’ oppression at the hands of White Southerners. Levin adds that stories about Black Confederate soldiers ignore or a historical reality: The majority of Black Confederate veterans were enslaved peoples, and thus had no choice but to fight.
“The stories about slaves in the war have been distorted to make them out to be soldiers,” Levin explains. “The myth of the lost cause allows White Southerners to reconfigure what war is about—that it’s not about slavery.”
The planned bill comes more than two years after self-described White supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine Black parishioners at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The massacre and ensuing outrage prompted the removal of the flag from its spot atop the state house.
Cities across the country faced renewed calls to remove existing Confederate monuments after the “Unite the Right” rally, during which White supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia to violently protest the removal of a Confederate statue.
Two weeks ago, Democratic South Carolina state senator Darrell Jackson responded to these calls with a new bill proposing a statue honoring Robert Smalls, an enslaved Black man who fled the Confederacy and went on to serve with Union troops and become a politician after the war. Jackson, who is Black, denounced Burns and Chumley’s proposed bill as a “sarcastic reaction.”
“Ours is a bi-partisan, bi-racial proposal about bringing people together, not creating something that will further divide us,” Jackson said. His bill is co-sponsored by White Republican state senator Chauncey Gregory.