join Confederate group to honor heritage
Jul 13, 2002
Associated Press Writer
SALEM, Va. (AP) _ At times, the research was painful for
Court records, family documents and visits to museums
yielded evidence of slaves, the ships that carried them and the tools that
Now, Holland's genealogical quest has taken him to a place
that many blacks consider just as offensive: the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Holland decided to join the group after it confirmed that
his great-great-grandfather, Creed Holland, was a slave horse-drawn wagon driver
who was made to serve in the Confederate infantry. Two of William Holland's
brothers also have signed up, a third is considering it, and a sister has
applied for membership in the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
"Why not?" Holland said of his family's unusual
action, calling their ancestor's service _ albeit forced _ a point of immense
"During the whole fiasco with the Civil War a lot of
men didn't come home. It was a tough time, and to survive that and come back
alive was an accomplishment," he said. "Our grandfather fought with
them, so there will be some respect for us and for our family."
SCV officials say minorities are almost certainly a part of
the membership in every Southern state chapter, though the exact number is
unknown because applicants aren't asked about their race. The only requirement
is proof that a direct ancestor served "honorably" in the Confederate
Ben C. Sewell III, executive director of the 31,000-member
organization, declined to give an estimate.
"Nobody really knows," Sewell said, speaking from
his office in Columbia, Tenn. "Obviously we'd like to have more black or
minority members because the fact that we have minorities and welcome them
deflects some of the criticism we seem to get, primarily because of the battle
The group, founded in 1896 to honor the Confederate dead,
has successfully fought to get the Confederate flag logo on license plates in
several states, including Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. At the same
time, it has spent considerable time maintaining that it's possible to defend
the Confederacy without being a racist.
An SCV fact sheet says tens of thousands of blacks served
in the Confederate Army as laborers, teamsters, cooks and soldiers.
Historians have largely shied away from researching blacks
in the Confederate Army and precise numbers are hard to come by, said Gary W.
Gallagher, who holds a chair in Civil War history at the University of Virginia.
"You often see these wildly inflated figures of black
soldiers in the Confederate Army _ 40,000, 50,000, 60,000 _ the implication
being that they carried muskets and fought, and that is simply not true,"
Gallagher said. He said "a handful" of black men likely fought in the
war, and called the number "statistically insignificant."
Gallagher also dismissed the notion that some of those
black men supported the Confederacy.
"The overwhelming majority of black Confederate
soldiers _ and you can put that in quotation marks _ didn't want to be there but
were made to be there," he said.
For many blacks, the notion of joining a group honoring the
Confederacy that enslaved their ancestors is incomprehensible.
"I can't even fathom why they would want to be a part
of this," said Milton Reid, who founded the Virginia chapter of the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "I think there are some things we
have done in the past that should die _ and this should die. I'm talking about
the whole idea of the Confederacy."
But for Holland and his brothers, joining the SCV _ and
paying the $34 annual membership fee _ is a way to honor their ancestors and to
better understand what motivates the group.
"I want to learn both sides of it ... and also educate
others by what I might learn." said Holland, 33, who lives in Atlanta.
"It's hard. Especially for our side. But you can't
always sweep things under the carpet. At some point you just have to sit down
and talk about it. That's the best way you can resolve issues, period."
Holland's curiosity was aroused years ago by the stories
his father, Sam Holland Sr., told about growing up in a segregated Virginia.
He knew that his great-great grandfather had been a slave
on a Franklin County plantation owned by descendants of Thomas Johnson Holland,
who bought the 732 acres of land in 1850. There, his family grew tobacco and
grain and produced moonshine before it became illegal.
While leafing through Franklin County's court records,
William Holland discovered Creed's marriage license from 1868. His research
eventually led him to Hazel Holland Davis, whose family owned Creed Holland and
who still lives in the family home. She also was researching her ancestors and
had unearthed a list of the plantation's slaves who had received Confederate
pensions. Creed Holland was among them.
Last month, Davis mentioned Creed Holland's service record
to Robert W. "Red" Barbour, the SCV's former state commander. Barbour
immediately approached his colleague at Yokohama Tire in Salem, John Wayne
Holland, and asked if he was related to William. Upon hearing that the men were
brothers, Barbour asked John Holland if he would join the SCV.
"I felt honored," John Holland, 47, said.
"It's a good education to be able to get along with people from all walks
of life. And history is history, so you go back in time and learn things."
William followed soon after, and a few weeks later,
37-year-old Ben Holland signed the SCV membership papers under Barbour's
The brothers said they were surprised to learn their
great-great grandfather had served in the Confederate Army. They said they had
never been taught about the role of slaves or free blacks in the Civil War.
"A lot of people don't want to learn about it,"
said Ben Holland, a maintenance supervisor for the American Red Cross in
Roanoke. "But you've got to relive history. How are you going to outline
your future if you don't know about your past?"
To Ben Holland, the Confederate flag isn't offensive. Many
of his school friends displayed it on their cars and outside their western
"It wasn't no big deal. It wasn't no racist deal. It's
heritage," Ben Holland said. "A lot of people say that's hatred. No,
it's not; it's heritage."
So far, the brothers say they haven't been criticized for
joining the SCV.
"It's their constitutional right and their heritage
and they shouldn't be harassed," Barbour said. "And the harassment is
going to come from their side, not ours."
William Holland said he eventually hopes to turn his
research into a book or documentary about the friendship between the black
Hollands and the white Hollands. He also plans to take his genealogical quest to
his ancestors' home tribe, the Ibo farming community in Nigeria.
"People think you're a descendant of a slave," he
said. "But who were you before that?"