I hope everyone who had a chance to listen to Earl Ijames’s presentation last night on “colored Confederates” had a good time. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I will ever have the opportunity to attend one of his talks in person, but I have learned quite a bit about his research and interpretation from various news items in which he is quoted. While I agreed to take part in a public forum with Mr. Ijames at an upcoming academic conference it does not look like it will happen. To be honest, I am much more interested in having Mr. Ijames present his work in a peer reviewed journal so that it can be judged by the historical community as a whole. We are unlikely to see that any time soon as well. In the mean time I will continue to share what I consider to be some of the more outlandish claims that Mr. Ijames has made over the past few years in various public settings.
The following news item takes us back to a presentation given by Mr. Ijames in November 2008 as part of the Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum Legacy Lectures Series. According to the article, Ijames said the following:
“There are people out there who have made their careers out of saying that there was no such thing as colored Confederate soldiers,” said Earl Ijames, curator at the North Carolina Museum of History. “As a historian, I want the records and facts to speak for themselves.”…. “As a state archivist and as a curator, I have had access to a lot of documents and records that proves a part of our history, on one hand is controversial and has been deliberately swept over, and on another hand, we still have vestiges in this state that are alive and kicking.”
Mr. Ijames needs to provide examples of who these people are that intentionally denied this history. If this claim makes any sense at all Mr. Ijames should be able to cite at least one example for public scrutiny. As bad as that is consider his claims about this history.
Confederate pensions were initially for soldiers who were injured in war and could not work. In 1927, the law was written to allow ditch diggers of color to receive pensions, but not Black Confederate soldiers. As the law evolved, pensions could be administered to soldiers who were too old to work, then to widows of soldiers from the Civil War. “I found just fewer than 200 colored Confederate pension applications, but many people did not know of the pension claim. There were many colored soldiers who served but were not documented on rosters.”
Records that Ijames came across indicated that in 1862, a Confederate steamer was captured by the Union navy and 29 Black servants were taken as prisoners of war. “Now, I just find it hard to believe that there were 29 servants on a small steamer. I believe that some of those servants were actually soldiers but the Confederacy did not want the Union to know they had Blacks in the army,” Ijames said.
This is truly a remarkable claim for a historian to make. So, the evidence that Ijames has available suggests that the men in question were slaves, but he believes they were soldiers because he believes the Confederacy was trying to keep their real identity a secret. I would love to know what evidence Mr. Ijames has that would support such a claim. This wouldn’t even be acceptable as an argument from one of my high school students. Do I really need to debate someone who feels comfortable making this kind of claim?
As I stated before, I would have no problem if we were talking about a private individual; however, Mr. Ijames is an employee of a public institution. The North Carolina Museum of History and Office of Archives and History have a responsibility here. Are we in the historical community supposed to believe that Earl Ijames speaks for the museum and the rest of the public historical community in North Carolina? Is this the level of scholarship that they expect from their employees and is this the level of scholarship that we would find in other historical areas? I find it impossible to believe that I am the first historian to raise questions concerning Mr. Ijames’s “research.” No doubt, I am the first historian with a blog to do so and I will continue to make public these ridiculous claims until action is taken. None of this would be necessary if after 15 years of research something was made public in the form of a peer reviewed essay.
Until then one must assume that the North Carolina Museum of History has a loose cannon on their hands.