Ta-Nehisi Coates on the strangely persistent myth of the black confederate:
It’s worth considering how this claim lingers. James McPherson is a Pulitizer-Prize winning historian, one of the titans of his field. Bruce Levine wrote a highly readable investigation into the charge. Historians from the Park Service have debunked the myth. There is a website specifically devoted to further debunking the myth. And yet it does not simply linger, it thrives and actually spreads to reputable places like The Takeaway. The information is widely available. We simply can’t cope with it.
That black people are participants in the spread of this myth doesn’t mean much to me. I’m sure somewhere there are Jews who deny the Holocaust. All this says to me is that it is extremely painful–for blacks and whites–to face up to the fact that Civil War was about the right of white people to pilfer the labor of blacks. We really need to believe that our ancestors were better than this. But they weren’t. And, as proven by our inability to accept the truth, neither are we.
This is the kind of thing I tried to keep in mind when I was in China and marveling over the fact that Mao Zedong is on all their currency. To outsiders, the guy seems like a monster responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. But he’s also the architect of the current Chinese state. We’ve got Andrew “Trail of Tears” Jackson on our money, Jefferson Davis Highway in Northern Virginia, and apparently the notion that blacks fought on both sides of the Civil War. The desire to make the history of your own country more benign than it really was is powerful.