Monthly Archive for August, 2013

Faithful Slaves and Black Confederates, pt. 4

By Angelina Ray Johnston and Robinson Wise
[This is the fourth of 4 installments of an essay that was originally published here.]

Aunt Pallas

Aunt Pallas

On December 8, 2012, almost a century after the first “Old Slaves’ Reunion” hosted by Charles Hunter, about 250 people gathered in Monroe, North Carolina, to dedicate a monument to ten black men who assisted the Confederate Army. Located on the grounds of the county courthouse, the granite marker stands in front of Union County’s century-old Confederate monument. Speakers at the dedication included members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, the Order of the Confederate Rose, the Order of the Black Rose, and Children of the Confederacy. Also in the crowd was Mattie Rice, the 90-year-old daughter of one of the men memorialized on the marker. Born in the 1920s when her father was elderly, Rice is one of the last remaining direct descendants of a former slave alive today.10

The monument is the first of its kind in the country. African Americans who labored, whether coerced or not, in the Confederate ranks during the Civil War were not well documented. The ten black men honored in Monroe were exceptional and had received small pensions from the state of North Carolina. During the war, they had cooked, cleaned, and built fortifications. That they received Confederate pensions is notable, but it is also notable that they received their pensions much later than did white Confederate veterans. Most of the men were in poor health and at the very end of their lives when North Carolina finally agreed to provide pensions to blacks who served in the war. The marker reads: “In Memory Of Union County’s Confederate Pensioners Of Color” and lists the men’s names, noting that one was a free man and the rest were slaves. It concludes: “In Honor Of Courage & Service By All African-Americans During The War Between the States (1861-65).”

The monument seemingly has different meanings for the descendants of the black men honored by it and for the whites who supported its erection. For the descendants, the monument is a modest recognition of their ancestors’ lives. When interviewed about the marker, Jackie Barrett-Washington, great-granddaughter of one of the slaves, responded, “There’s always been markers of white men who served. Now, North Carolina is distinguishing itself by saying there were people of color who were a part of this, too.” For whites, it is an enduring monument to the faithfulness of slaves to their owners and their contribution to the Confederacy. Joel Fesperman, commander of an Albemarle SCV camp, used the occasion to emphasize the common purpose that united the black men and their masters during the war and the shared allegiance that unites blacks and whites today: “We are all brothers and sisters under one flag.” Michael Givens, the SCV commander in chief, used the ceremony as the pretext to induct Aaron Perry, the great-grandson of one of the 10 men commemorated on the monument, into the SCV.11

The juxtaposition of the monument to the black Confederate pensioners and the monument to Confederate soldiers in Monroe, North Carolina is suggestive of the difficulty that Southerners have had acknowledging the historical legacy of slavery. While the monuments to the bravery and steadfastness of Confederate soldiers clutter the Southern landscape, white Southerners studiously avoided acknowledging the cruelty and exploitation inherent in slavery and instead dwelled on the love and fidelity of the mammy and faithful slave figures. Monuments to black mammies and faithful slaves accentuated the purported reciprocal bonds of obligation and affection between them and their white owners and in turn mask slavery’s brutality.

10. Bell, Adam. “Monroe Ceremony Honors Slaves who Served in the Confederate Army,” Charlotte Observer, December 6, 2012
11. Ibid.

“Faithful Slaves” and Black Confederates, Pt. 3

By Angelina Ray Johnston and Robinson Wise
[This is the third of 4 installments of an essay that was originally published here.]

Although African Americans lobbied strenuously against any national monument to “mammies,” some African Americans sought to exploit whites’ professed affection for “faithful slaves” and “mammies” to advance black freedom and improve race relations. In North Carolina, Charles N. Hunter (1852-1931) was a tireless champion of black educational opportunities and economic progress even while he also promoted an annual ceremony to commemorate the faithful service of former slaves to their masters. Born a slave, Hunter was the son of a slave artisan and the property of William Dallas Haywood, a member of a prominent Raleigh family. Hunter’s first job was with the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust in Raleigh. After that venture failed in 1874, he began teaching, a profession with which he was associated for the rest of his life. Over the years he taught in schools across the state, and from 1910 to 1918 he served as principal of the Berry O’Kelly School, a black high school on the outskirts of Raleigh. During his tenure, the Baltimore Manufacturer’s Record acclaimed the school as the “finest and most practical rural training school in the entire South.”7

Hunter was simultaneously outspoken and cautious in his demands for racial justice. He was adamant that blacks deserved equal rights but advocated congenial race relations. While he urged blacks to build on longstanding relationships with white Southern elites (aka former slaveholders) he beseeched white elites to fulfill their promises to be the “black man’s best friend.” As one of the founders in 1879 of the annual Negro State Fair, Hunter sought opportunities to promote the interracial amity that was conspicuously absent at the dawn of the twentieth century. Although Hunter, himself a former slave, had no illusions about the slave experience, he did hold that one consequence of slavery had been that blacks and whites had lived together on close terms. Since emancipation, almost all familiarity between blacks and whites had dissolved, and now was replaced by animosity and suspicion.

In 1913, in his capacity as an officer of the Negro State Fair and as a member of the Exslaves’ Association of North Carolina, Hunter set out to revive the former bonds of affection between masters and slaves by organizing and publicizing a reunion of former slaves and their masters during the fair. Former slaveowners contributed funds to pay for the transportation of their aged former slaves to Raleigh and local white women helped prepare and serve a dinner to the former slaves. The banquet was accompanied by speeches, songs, and reminiscences from both former slave masters and slaves. Heartened by his Old Slaves’ Reunion and Dinner, Hunter proclaimed that “Today the Negro’s heart beats as one with his former owners.” Hunter would continue to promote the slave reunion until his death in 1931.8

 

Both during his lifetime and since, some observers viewed Hunter’s ideas about the ties of affection between slaves and masters as naive at best, craven at worst. Yet Hunter’s larger goal was not to perpetuate nostalgia about slavery, but rather to exploit the former familiarity between some whites and their former slaves to enlighten whites in general about black educational, economic, and religious progress since emancipation. Hunter, in sum, sought to strengthen tenuous bonds across the racial line in order to ease the climate of distrust that soured all contact between blacks and whites. He fully understood the obstacles in his path, and although he expressed satisfaction with the slave reunions that he hosted, he publicly acknowledged late in his life that they had failed to substantively improve race relations.9

7. Manufacturer’s Record, April 12, 1917; on Hunter, see John Haley, Charles N. Hunter and Race Relations in North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987).
8. Haley, John. Charles N. Hunter and Race Relations in North Carolina, 176-77; Raleigh Times, December 22, 1913; Fayetteville Observer, January 31, 1927.
9. For more information about Charles N. Hunter’s heritage visit “Charles N. Hunter Papers, 1850s-1932 and undated,” David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.