“My name is Fountain Hughes … My grandfather belonged to Thomas Jefferson.” Hughes then begins a wily standoff with his white interviewer, Hermond Norwood, digressing into his opinions about babies wearing shoes (-22:00) and buying things “on time [credit],” decrying the Yankees throwing flour into the river (-11:10) and, finally, declaring he would shoot himself rather than go back to slavery, where “you are nothing but a dog.” (-10:00)
There are some great nuggets here: the fights over memory and representation; the Dixiecrats hold over the WPA and its various artistic and historical projects; the fears of now freed people of suffering retaliation from whites in the Jim Crow South if their stories about the evil ways of white folks were too honest; and how the very idea of "documentary" projects were part of a broader populist turn towards everyday people--as opposed to "great" men and women--and the importance of their life stories and experiences to understanding the grand American narrative.
However, some slaves’ disapproval of the Northern army was genuine. Ward writes of “astonishing empathy” for masters and mistresses and documents touching and deeply humane instances of slaves acting beyond the constraints of bondage, like carrying their masters’ bodies over long distances to be buried at home. Furthermore, in the immediate human context of war, slaves’ interests overlapped with those of slaveholders; they wanted to protect food and livestock from incoming troops not only because they had been ordered to, but because their own sustenance was at stake.
Not to mention the fact that, however cruel and twisted, intimate family bonds existed between black and white throughout the South. Adam Goodheart points out that at the dawn of the war, mixed-race slaves were more likely to join the Confederate effort (technically, the Confederacy never accepted them as enlisted troops but gladly put them to work): ”Human nature is a complicated thing.”
Harriet Smith’s soft, melodic voice conjures up the image of her as a girl, sitting atop a white fence watching the troops go by, surprised by the sight of “colored soldiers in droves,” and filled with wonder when a black orphan girl neighbor (who had had her arm cut off while operating a molasses mill) ran off with one of them. (-:55) (Part 2 of 4, -4:00) Approximately 300,000 black men would serve in the Union army (and thousands would also join the Confederate effort, including Fountain Hughes’s father, who was killed at Gettysburg) but the sight was particularly shocking to all Southerners in the early days of the war.
How much weight do we give to inconvenient facts that stand outside and apart from the consensus on a topic, of the narrative generated by the other data points? Ideal typical cases are handy; there is also much to be learned by those which do not neatly fit into our existing models. Yes, there were a few African Americans who held other black folks as slaves in the South. But, what does this tell us about the institution as a whole? Sure, there may have been a few Blacks, who for their own reasons, tried to find a way to join the Confederate Army. But what does that tell us about the totality of the Civil War, a struggle to defend white supremacy and human bondage as a way of life?