Anatomy of a myth: The collective memory of African American Confederate soldiers
This article explores the belief that African Americans fought for the Confederacy as well as the Union during the U.S. Civil War. Collective memory among university students is examined for evidence of the belief, and the narrative elements included are analyzed. Data come from a survey sample of undergraduate and graduate students (N=1,305) at a large public university in a former Confederate state. The survey included an open-ended question asking respondents to describe African American participation in the Civil War. Although the belief has little basis in historical fact, 16% of respondents volunteered the belief that African Americans fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, and an additional 4% made a similar but more qualified statement. The distribution of responses was analyzed in terms of respondents’ social background characteristics, showing that having an ancestor who fought in the Civil War (for either side) was associated with the belief that African Americans fought for the Confederacy. Qualitative analysis explored narrative strategies employed by respondents, including efforts to explain (or explain away) the contradiction of believing that African Americans fought to preserve the system that enslaved them.
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