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Forgotten Heroes of Southern History: George Washington Albright – From Chains to Office

George Washington Albright was born enslaved to a Mississippi planter, but later served in the Reconstructed legislature. While in bondage, his mother secretly taught him to read and write. During the war, he took part in a secret organization bringing news of freedom to the enslaved people of the South. After the war ended, not only was he part of the new Mississippi government, he helped to organize free schools for the former slaves. When the Ku Klux Klan began to push back, he helped to form black militias to beat them back.

Mr. Albright goes on to explain why poor whites decided to side with the rich whites rather than with blacks and their own self-interests. He also explains why, by the 1900s, he could no longer consider himself part of the Republican Party.

Treason and the Illusive Guilt of the Rebels

Beginning in 1860, many United States citizens actively took part in levying war against their national government. Many others gave aid and comfort to those who had, until just prior, pledged allegiance to the United States. And yet, at the end of that conflict, not a single one of them was found guilty of treason in a Federal court. Let’s dig into what treason actually means, how it had been applied previous to the Civil War, and why even the rebel leaders were not found guilty of treason.

Early Confederate Attempts to Arm (But Not Emancipate) the Slaves

Prior to the Civil War, black American slaves had fought in every conflict. Sometimes they were forced, other times they were allowed to volunteer, and were even granted freedom as a reward for their service. This reward descended from a long tradition of emancipating slaves who risked their lives for their masters in a time of war. Usually, the prospect of freedom was the only reason for a slave to fight.

During the Civil War, a few Confederate citizens offered their slaves so that they might be used not only for digging trenches, but in combat. Never in any such discussion was the idea of emancipation entertained. Quite the contrary – the promise to keep the slaves enslaved following the conflict was floated in hopes of gaining favor. Nevertheless, all offers were refused until the very end.

In this short piece, let’s take a look at the history of slavery in American warfare, as well as the refusal of the Confederate government to arm its slaves.