Livingston, Tennessee's Black Mayor is a Member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans
Earlier this week I shared the story of the Black Tennessee mayor who met with the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to sign a proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month. I didn’t speculate as to what may have motivated the mayor not only to sign the proclamation, but also to take a photograph with members of the SCV. In many small communities these proclamations are routine and don’t involve anything more than the signing itself.
It turns out that the mayor is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. A photograph emerged yesterday on twitter of Mayor Curtis Hayes accepting his membership certificate with the organization back in 2009. All members must demonstrate an ancestral connection with a Confederate soldier to qualify for membership. Hayes believes that his great great grandfather, Sam Cullom, served as a soldier in a Tennessee regiment.
He is wrong.
In fact, this story is the perfect example of the perfect storm of conditions that continues to reinforce the Black Confederate myth, especially in cases that involve African Americans.
One of the ways the SCV has attempted to defend its organization and mission in recent decades is to admit African-American members by claiming that Black men served as soldiers in the army. It’s a way of defending the legacy of their ancestors from the fact that the Confederacy was fighting to create an independent slaveholding republic.
The most obvious problem is simply not understanding the basic history of the Confederacy and the ways in which they utilized slave labor for military purposes throughout the war. This failure leads directly to the misintepretation of key docoments. In this case, pension applications.
As you can see in the caption above, it was reported that Cullom received a “Confederate pension after the war.” Let’s be clear, no one received a Confederate pension at any point after the war because the Confederacy ceased to exist in 1865. Former Confederate states issued pensions at different times and for different reasons.
Five former Confederate states issued pensions to former body servants or camp slaves, mainly in the 1920s. Tennessee was one of them. All you have to do is look at Cullom’s application to verify this.
Tennessee created a separate pension application for former body servants. They are different from those that were issued to former Confederate soldiers.
In this case, the applicant must indicate the “regimental and company officers under whom your master served” and list the “name of your owner.” This is an acknowledgment that Cullom was enslaved during the war. Read through it if you have the time for a heavy dose of the “faithful slave” narrative.
Another way in which the SCV obscures and distorts this history is by applying for military gravestones for men like Cullom.
As you can see, the gravestone lists Cullom’s rank as a private and includes his company and regiment designation, all of which would give anyone the incorrect impression that they are standing at the grave of a soldier and not a former camp slave. The SCV often holds elaborate graveside ceremonies to dedicate these new military gravestones, which often attract local media.
These false stories often become the focal point for local interest stories during Black History Month. Reporters often just pass on what the SCV and other organizations share with them or the information they find as a result of doing an unfiltered online search.
Black Confederates served within Confederate regiments alongside their white brothers. Black rebels served as body servants, musicians, teamsters, sentries, cooks, quartermasters, hospital stewards, chaplains, and engineers. An estimated 40,000 served in combat.
As for Cullom:
Pvt. Sam Cullom of Overton County (Livingston), a slave of the Cullom family, went to war with his owner's son, Jim Cullom. They were among the first unit to leave for Confederate duty from Overton County. They fought together in numerous campaigns until Jim Cullom was killed in the battles of the Atlanta campaign. Sam Cullom buried Jim and continued to fight with the unit until the end of the war, when he returned to Overton County. Sam Cullom’s application for a Tennessee Black Confederate pension was approved in three days of its arrival at the Confederate Pension Board in Nashville. Sam is buried in the Bethlehem Methodist Church cemetery just outside Livingston, in an area where Sam and his family were major landowners. Land in the area where the Overton County Fairgrounds sits once belonged to Sam Cullom, Black Confederate. There is also a family story that at one time Sam Cullom was threatened by a group of men and the KKK came to rescue him. Four granddaughters of Sam Cullom, three of whom live in the Livingston area, attended the historic grave marking held to honor his service to the Confederate States of America. The fourth granddaughter is a retired college professor, Dr. Althea Armstrong, who lives in Detroit, Michigan.
Notice that Cullom is referenced as both a private and a slave in the very same sentence. Confusing? The information is simply passed on with little or no attempt to verify its veracity.
I can’t speak to why Mayor Hayes joined the SCV or how he came to believe that his ancestor served as s soldier in the Confederate army. As I learned in the course of my research for Searching for Black Confederates, the reasons why some African Americans have aligned themselves with the SCV and this myth are complex. I’ve come across a number of cases in which the families simply appreciate the recognition of their ancestor in a capacity as something other than a slave.
Finally, the news of this small town Black mayor declaring April as Confederate History Month has made national news. The photograph of the mayor seated in front of members of the SCV can be found all over social media.
This morning, however, the Overton County News released this new photograph of Overton County Executive Ben Danner meeting with the SCV to sign the proclamation.
Is this there idea of damage control?
Thanks for reading Civil War Memory! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Sometimes, it's difficult to click the "heart," but I do so because I appreciate the depth of research and the verification of facts. My head pounds at the thought of contemporary Black men smiling and joining in on reinforcement of the myth of the Black Confederate soldier. It reminds me of Ben Carson's repulsive reference to enslaved, imported Africans as immigrants. Sorry, Ben, no.
Harriet Tubman freed a thousand slaves and would have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves. Hey Dear Mayor Cuz did you know that Mack’s wife ( Sam’s Son and my great grandfather) GAVE AWAY 125 acres to the church? You believe that shit!?