Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War's Most Persistent Myth

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Independent historian Kevin Levin will speak about his new book, Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War's Most Persistent Myth.

More than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, scores of websites, articles, and organizations repeat claims that anywhere between 500 and 100,000 free and enslaved African Americans fought willingly as soldiers in the Confederate army. But as Kevin M. Levin argues in this carefully researched book, such claims would have shocked anyone who served in the army during the war itself. 

Kevin Levin explains that imprecise contemporary accounts, poorly understood primary-source material, and other misrepresentations helped fuel the rise of the black Confederate myth. Moreover, Levin shows that belief in the existence of black Confederate soldiers largely originated in the 1970s, a period that witnessed both a significant shift in how Americans remembered the Civil War and a rising backlash against African Americans’ gains in civil rights and other realms. 

The author also investigates the roles that African Americans actually performed in the Confederate army, including personal body servants and forced laborers. He demonstrates that regardless of the dangers these men faced in camp, on the march, and on the battlefield, their legal status remained unchanged. Even long after the guns fell silent, Confederate veterans and other writers remembered these men as former slaves and not as soldiers, an important reminder that how the war is remembered often runs counter to history. 

Kevin Levin has blogged at Civil War Memory for more than a decade. He specializes in the history and memory of the American Civil War, and speaks regularly to audiences around the country, including schools and public forums, about some of the most controversial issues surrounding the Confederate battle flag and Confederate monuments. Mr. Levin has taught history on the high school and college levels. He is the author of Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, editor of Interpreting the Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites, and his writings have appeared in The Daily Beast, The New York Times, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Education Week.

Copies of Searching for Black Confederates will be available for purchase and signing at the event. 

Free admission for RH&SQ members; $10 for non-members.