Originally created 02/21/99

Confederate blacks' role overlooked



ATLANTA -- Like other members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Emerson Emory says he wants to preserve his Southern heritage. His mission, however, is especially challenging -- and controversial.

The 74-year-old Dallas psychiatrist is black, and his insistence that many black Southerners not only supported the Confederacy but also fought for it in the Civil War often draws reactions ranging from skepticism to outrage.

"Most of the reaction was among my friends in the black race -- they couldn't understand," Mr. Emory said. "I think it's one of those things that they don't want to hear anything about."

While recognition of the role black soldiers played for the Union -- dramatized in the movie Glory -- has grown in the past decade, there remains little recognition -- or even acknowledgment -- of black Confederates.

Charles Kelly Barrow, a Zebulon, Ga., high school teacher who is white, has spent years researching blacks in the Confederacy. Besides many disbelieving blacks, he said, there are whites who don't want to admit that blacks fought for the South.

"They're in opposition either way. Certain people have always tried to divide white and black Southerners," he said.

Mr. Barrow's 1995 book, Forgotten Confederates, is an anthology that draws upon wartime newspaper accounts, later accounts of Civil War reunions, essays, obituaries and pension records to offer evidence of blacks serving the Confederacy.

Some Southern heritage buffs estimate their numbers at anywhere from 38,000 to 90,000 men, mainly serving as laborers, teamsters, musicians and cooks.

As early as 1863, Confederate Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne urged that blacks be enlisted as soldiers. There was opposition from Confederates who questioned whether men serving as soldiers could be returned to slavery after the war and who would work the region's farms if slaves were taken away.

In March 1865, the Confederate Congress authorized black soldiers, but there's little indication that any all-black Confederate units went to war.

However, there are accounts that, from the war's beginning, blacks in gray sometimes were armed in battle.

Besides examples of loyalty and even bravery on behalf of the Confederacy, Southern heritage buffs also note that there were no wide slave insurrections during the war.

However, those on the other side of the debate point to the thousands of slaves who fled to the North and joined the fight against the Rebels. Many of those who remained behind likely did so out of fear and an expectation that they would soon be free regardless, they say.

"As the star of the Confederacy waned, the Negroes within its shrinking orbit continued to enact the roles in which they had cast themselves," wrote Morgan State College professor Benjamin Quarles in his 1953 book, The Negro in the Civil War. "They were convinced that the fated hour of freedom was drawing nearer by the minute."