It’s been quite exciting around here over the past few days and as you might imagine I’ve found it hard to keep up with all the comments. The subject of “black Confederates” never fails to excite my readers, but the latest post, which has now topped 100 comments, seems to have taken the discourse to a whole new level. Because of this I want to take a few minutes to make a few points.
First and foremost, I value your comments. If I wanted this site to simply function as a forum for my own views than I would have turned off the comments option. That, however, has always seemed to me to run counter to the very idea of blogging. Over the past few years I’ve learned quite a bit from my readers and have been forced to reconsider positions on more than a couple of occasions. While I value your thoughts this does not give you the right to insult me or turn this site into your own forum, even if you believe that I am guilty of the same. Simply put, the First Amendment does not apply here. A few of you out there will have noticed by now that your comments are not going through. Please consider yourself temporarily banned from commenting on this site and please do not email me as they will go unanswered. Let me say again that this will no longer be tolerated at Civil War Memory. I retain the right to edit, delete, or ban IP Addresses. You are free to hurl insults about me on other blogs (assuming you are allowed to do so) or you can start your very own blog. Remember, blogging is free. There are also countless Message Boards and Listservs that you can join in on and add to the growing chorus against me. That’s fine and I accept that this is the price for jumping into the blogosphere. Ultimately, my goal is to further discussion about those aspects of the Civil War that I find interesting and worthy of analysis. The level of emotion and invective as of late has made that much more difficult to achieve and it has to stop.
Those of you who have been with me for some time now know that I am passionate about certain issues. I make no apologies for that. It can be seen in the frequency of certain subjects and especially in my tone. Through it all, and with a few exceptions, I’ve always tried to provide reasons for my positions. I claim no authority on any historical subject beyond what I’ve read and what I’ve researched/published. Most of my posts include references to books, which reflects a strongly-held belief that I have no access to the historical past beyond what I’ve read. [Click here to tour my library.] We have a responsibility to question those who engage the public and who have assumed a position of authority within public circles. They, in turn have the responsibility to respond if they expect to be treated as authority figures. I expect the same from the students that I teach, from the readers of my blog, as well as those who have read my published work. In turn, it is my responsibility to defend and explain myself in light of the positions that I hold.
I have written countless posts on the issue of “black Confederates” and have asked very hard and direct questions about those who make extravagant claims about their numbers as well as their role in the Confederacy. In addition, I’ve read most of the scholarly literature that bears on this subject. On a number of occasions I’ve questioned the public statements of Earl Ijames. As an archivist employed by the state of North Carolina and as someone who has given press interviews and conducted countless workshops Ijames has a responsibility to respond to questions and criticisms. He may not want to and he may question the motivation and the character of the individual issuing the challenge, but that does not relieve him of his responsibility. You will notice that at no time did I insult him within the content of the post and I even offered him an opportunity to share his research and clarify his position. Unfortunately, Mr. Ijames chose to respond by insulting me [see here and here] and calling me an “idiot.” He even went so far as to threaten to include a photograph of me at his next workshop. Of course, Ijames is free to insult me until the cows come home, but it doesn’t help his standing as an authority on this subject one bit; in fact, it probably does significant damage to it. Even better, when I requested a list of his publications on the subject he shot back by suggesting that he would reveal his research at some future date and when he is good and “ready to release it”, though he did invite me to one of his “workshops” on the subject. This is not the response of someone who wishes to be taken seriously.
So where do we stand? As far as I am concerned Earl Ijames is not an authority on this subject given his inability and/or unwillingness to engage those who are sincerely interested in this subject and who tend not to sit by passively when it comes to consuming historical studies. Perhaps one day soon we will be lucky enough to learn more about Mr. Ijames’s work that by all indications has not progressed much beyond the collection of various primary sources. But don’t take my word for it, even one of his former colleagues has questioned his overall view.
You can rest assured that I will continue to question others and work to bring about cordial and enlightening dialog on this blog. I do so not as an absolute authority on any subject, but as someone who has the ability to think critically and question. I expect each and every one of you to do the same. Thanks.