We Have a Responsibility to Take Care of the Past

That includes the North Carolina Museum of History and the Office of Archives and History.

Earl Ijames on Weary Clyburn:

Weary Clyburn was one of thousands of slaves who served in the Confederate Army, Ijames said. There’s no way to quantify the number of slaves who served. “But it’s in the thousands, easy.” People today often wonder why slaves fought for the Confederacy. Ijames said the only course they had to freedom was through the Confederate Army. “Why not go and defend what they know versus running away and going to the unknown,” Ijames said.

Mr. Ijames has a responsibility to explain these statements to the North Carolina Museum of History, Office of Archives and History as well as the rest of the historical community.

11 thoughts on “We Have a Responsibility to Take Care of the Past

  1. Brooks D. Simpson

    Speaking for myself, I'd prefer this all come up in the online discussion that's been proposed. I think Mr. Ijames should have time to consider and reply to this opportunity to share his findings.

    Reply
  2. David Rhoads

    He needs to explain this statement as well:

    “Slaves were not allowed to fight in the federal army, Ijames said. Those that made their way behind Union lines were still considered slaves.”

    I expect that any explanations will be a long time coming, however. Judging from his statements, Mr. Ijames appears to have turned straightforward historical facts on their heads. It is tempting to wade in and debunk this sort of thing, but since the questions these kinds of statements raise are not so much historical as ideological, it's pretty much a waste of time to approach them from the angle of historical analysis.

    That said, I hope Mr. Ijames agrees to the debate on Civil Warriors, but I'm not holding my breath. Statements like the ones quoted here are simply indefensible and I suspect Mr. Ijames realizes he cannot support them.

    Reply
  3. margaretdblough

    Kevin-What Mr. Ijames seems to be avoiding like the plague is dealing with white attitudes in the Confederacy, particulary in the power structure. That slaves and/or free blacks would be willing to fight for a government that oppressed them in order to gain freedom is a truism. That has been demonstrated again and again, including in the American Revolution on both sides. In the American Revolution, among others, the white power structure ultimately chose pragmatism over racism, however grudgingly. The Confederacy couldn't until defeat was staring them in the face, and even then the bill authorizing black enlistment, with all its conditions, barely passed. It's Ira Berlin's distinction between a society with slaves and a slave society. The former could accept black help in extremity without it threatening the core principles of the society; the latter could not.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin

      I think there are two levels of interpretation that need to be addressed. The first is the question of how a black Confederate/Colored Confederate profile is constructed. What kinds of documents are needed and how should they be interpreted. We also need to define terms such as soldier, service, etc. In other words what do we even mean when we refer to someone as a soldier or slave or teamster, etc. Distinctions matter here and we need to do some serious analysis and ask the right questions.

      The second issue is how this discussion fits into broader historiographical issues that stretch back into the antebellum period. The Confederacy didn't just fall out of the sky. It was made up of states which had very serious concerns when it came to the maintenance of slavery and white supremacy. The distinction you raise is actually Edmund Morgan's in _American Slavery, American Freedom_, but it is relevant nonetheless. How does this notion of thousands of slave soldiers fit into the idea of a slave society at war? I would love to have an answer to that question not to mention a response to your point that the Confederate government did not authorize the enlistment of black soldiers until close to the end. Did they not know that thousands were already serving?

      Reply
      1. margaretdblough

        I don't think I've read Morgan (another book to get). I first came across the distinction in reading Berlin.

        The term definition is particularly important. I've notice that, even among Black Confederate proponents, the definition keeps shifting.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin

          Berlin definitely employs the distinction as do others. Morgan's book is absolutely essential reading and it's well written.

          Until we nail down definitions we are talking at moving/invisible targets.

          Reply
          1. margaretdblough

            Another book that is on my essential list of reading on slavery in the United States is Frederic Bancroft's classic “Slave Trading in the Old South” (I recommend the 2006 reprint by the U of S. Carolina Press which has an excellent introduction by Michael Tadman).

            Reply
  4. Jimmy Price

    If I had the opportunity to discuss the abovementioned quote with Mr. Ijames, the first thing I’d want to clear up is – If we can agree that the term “quantify” means “to specify the quantity of” and there is “no way to quantify the number of slaves who served,” how can anyone EASILY know that “it’s in the thousands”?

    I realize that the quote about quantification is not directly attributed to Mr. Ijames, but I’m assuming that the person who wrote the story was basing that sentence on his own words.

    Reply

Join the Conversation