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Film Maker Has Personal Interest In Blacks Who Served Confederacy
By Kathryn Jorgensen
June 2003

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - The latest contribution to the debate about the service of blacks to the Confederacy comes from an unlikely place - Las Vegas - and from an unlikely source - a black
director/producer. Stan Armstrong has a personal interest in blacks Confederates. His great-great-grandfather was a white plantation owner who took his black son to war.

Armstrong, who made the documentary "Black Confederates: The Forgotten Men in Gray," is a native of Nevada and graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he majored in communications and minored in American history and film. His parents were among those who left the South and moved west in search of work during World War II. After the war they moved from California to the boomtown of Las Vegas.

When Armstrong's mother died in 1995 she had not fulfilled her dream to return to the family land in northwest Louisiana. "She loved the South. I couldn't understand it as a boy growing up, but now I certainly do," says Armstrong. He remembers his parents referring to Northerners as "Yankees."

His white great-great-grandfather was John David Herndon, a Virginian who moved to the Rodessa area in the northwest corner of Louisiana near the Texas, Arkansas border. Armstrong grew up hearing the stories about his slave great-great-grandmother who had two children
by Herndon.

John Herndon's black son Joseph was raised in the Herndon household. When Herndon went to war, Joseph accompanied him. Armstrong thinks he was 12 or 13. Herndon was paroled at Vicksburg, and then fought again at Mansfield almost a year later, in April 1864. Herndon freed his slaves and gave Joseph and his sister land near the Red River where Armstrong's family still owns 180 acres.

He says the family lore didn't sink in until he was in college where his ethnic studies teacher captivated him with Civil War stories and tales of Nathan Bedford Forrest and the battle at Fort Pillow.

Armstrong began studying Forrest and the Civil War. He later produced a documentary, "The Forgotten Battle of Fort Pillow and the Birth of the KKK," and he's now a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Forrest Camp in Memphis.

He dedicated "Black Confederates" to the blacks who fought for the Confederacy. Some of them appear in the video. Old newsreel footage shows some of the last black veterans being interviewed at the 1938 Gettysburg reunion.

The documentary includes footage from silent movies and modern reenactments and quotes Frederick Douglass, Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln. Interviewees include Prof. Edward Smith, who says it is hard to reject the idea that the grandsons of blacks who fought during the American Revolution would not have fought for Robert E. Lee.

Armstrong says some of the blacks with the Confederate army were cooks, foragers, teamsters and personal servants. There were others: George Dance, the color bearer of the 8th Tennessee, and musicians and fifers. Forrest's escort company included 45 of his slaves, 20 of
whom went home with him after the war. Estimates are that 5 to 10 percent of the Confederate army was blacks.

Armstrong says the documentary tried to be evenhanded, getting comments pro and con the issue of blacks serving the Confederacy.

It has been received well and is getting excellent reviews and endorsements, he says. Southerners accept it better than Northerners.

"I would like my viewers to make up their own minds and hope that they will study a little bit more about it and be open minded," he says.

In addition to making documentaries, Armstrong does television camera and production work and teaches part time. His next documentary project will be "Native Americans of the Civil War." That will complete his trilogy on "Minorities Who served in the Civil War."

For information, contact Desert Rose Productions at P.O. Box 335897, North Las Vegas, NV 89033; www.desertrosefilms.7p.com

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