I have referenced Ann DeWitt’s new black Confederate website on a few occasions, but at this point we know very little about her. The website is filled with misinformation and vague references that can be found on the many websites that purport to educate. In the case of Ms. DeWitt, she hopes to eventually turn this site into a resource for teachers and students: “The goal is to have a comprehensive site by April 2011 for students and teachers – in time to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War from April 2011 to April 2015. This research is for our youth.” I am horrified by such a plan. I’ve been unable to track down any information about this woman or the website itself. [Note: I now understand why Richard Williams got so upset about my last post re: DeWitt. He apparently sent her a complimentary copy of his book, which is now being advertised on the site. Update: Williams responds to this post here. I am more than happy to retract whatever is assumed to be implicit in my referencing of the presence of his book on DeWitt’s site.]
Individuals who set up websites claiming to be legitimate historical resources for teachers and students have a responsibility to share their credentials. In short, the public has a right to know who you are, including your professional background and education. Whether you agree or disagree with what I write on this site you can find everything there is to know about my qualifications by clicking on my resume. You don’t need to be impressed with anything that I’ve done over the past ten years, but it is there for your consideration. One of the most important things that we must teach our students is how to judge Online information. If you do nothing else in this regard in your classroom this year at least reinforce the necessity of questioning the authorship of websites. Failure to do so renders all sites and the information contained therein equal. I can’t tell you how many people comment on this site by doing little more than parroting what they read elsewhere. Then when you question their information they get defensive and scold you for daring to disagree or responding in a skeptical manner.
As I’ve said, at this point I have been unable to locate any information about Ann DeWitt. This is nothing new in the Online world of black Confederates as most of these sites are set up by folks who have absolutely no experience working in anything close to the field of historical research or digital history.
Disclosure is something you don’t have to beg on your knees for. Disclosure is not a courtesy, it is a necessity to establish credibility. In academia, and especially in science, it is highly unusual to make a statement without disclosure. In fact, it is impossible at most universities to be invited without disclosure. The DeWitt website pretends to be some kind of educational website, but it completely fails to provide disclosure. Thus, it is nothing more than another blip online and has no credibility. Unfortunately, uneducated people might be trapped in thinking it valid.
The Confederate government prohibited slaves and free blacks from serving in the army. Why is that so hard for some people to grasp?
Maybe if you say it like this: THE CONFEDERATE GOVERNMENT PROHIBITED SLAVES AND FREE BLACKS FROM SERVING IN THE ARMY. WHY IS THAT SO HARD FOR SOME PEOPLE TO GRASP? 😀
I enjoy your blog and thank you for posting my comment. I am not sure how you square this statement:
“The problem that most fail to understand about Cleburne and others who supported some version of the plan is that they were not, in any way, pushing for the abolition of slavery. In fact, one way to understand Cleburne’s proposal is as a means of preserving the institution of slavery.”
with Cleburne’s actual words:
“If we arm and train him and make him fight for the country in her hour of dire distress, every consideration of principle and policy demand that we should set him and his whole race who side with us free. It is a first principle with mankind that he who offers his life in defense of the State should receive from her in return his freedom and his happiness, and we believe in acknowledgment of this principle. The Constitution of the Southern States has reserved to their respective governments the power to free slaves for meritorious services to the State. It is politic besides. For many years, ever since the agitation of the subject of slavery commenced, the negro has been dreaming of freedom, and his vivid imagination has surrounded that condition with so many gratifications that it has become the paradise of his hopes. To attain it he will tempt dangers and difficulties not exceeded by the bravest soldier in the field. The hope of freedom is perhaps the only moral incentive that can be applied to him in his present condition. It would be preposterous then to expect him to fight against it with any degree of enthusiasm, therefore we must bind him to our cause by no doubtful bonds; we must leave no possible loophole for treachery to creep in. The slaves are dangerous now, but armed, trained, and collected in an army they would be a thousand fold more dangerous: therefore when we make soldiers of them we must make free men of them beyond all question, and thus enlist their sympathies also. We can do this more effectually than the North can now do, for we can give the negro not only his own freedom, but that of his wife and child, and can secure it to him in his old home. To do this, we must immediately make his marriage and parental relations sacred in the eyes of the law and forbid their sale.”
Yes, Cleburne sees emancipation as a war measure, but he also states plainly that, ” … we must make free men of them beyond all question.” How is Cleburne advocating preserving the institution of slavery?
Thanks for the kind words re: the blog and for locating the passage in question that you have a problem with. It’s important to keep in mind that Cleburne’s proposal was actually kept from the general public because it was thought to be much too radical. If my memory is correct it didn’t resurface until after the war. Most of the proposals that were debated in 1864-65 did not involve general emancipation. The fact that a decision wasn’t made until March 1865 ought to give us a sense of just how committed the Confederacy was to preserving slavery. I highly recommend that you read Bruce Levine’s book, _Confederate Emancipation_, which I think is the best recent study on the Confederate debate to arm its slaves. Cleburne clearly understood that any plan to arm slaves had to be accompanied by freedom. However, therein lay the problem for slaveowners who believed that the institution of slavery was benign and even benefited slaves. Most importantly, they resisted all attempts on the part of the state and federal government to impress their property. You are correct in pointing out that I should not have grouped Cleburne with other proposals. Again, this tells us more about Cleburne’s specific background as a foreigner as opposed to the consensus view among white southerners. Thanks again for taking the time to comment and I hope that helps.
Keep in mind that the general officers of the Army of Tennessee who endorsed Cleburne’s proposal were native Southerners. I agree that it is a mistake to apply Cleburne’s views – or those of Lee in endorsing the 1865 proposal – as representative of majority opinion among white Southerners.
If I remember correctly a few officers endorsed it, but overall it was met with suspicion and stiff resistance. Craig Symonds emphasizes Cleburne’s origin in discussing his proposal, which I think is definitely relevant. A few officers may have agreed, but in the end, it was Cleburne who offered the proposal.
The Confederate generation should be accepted on its own terms. There is an ample historical record documenting the motives and beliefs of the average Confederate soldier, his officers, and the Southern politicians who led their states out of the union. The temptation to view this record – and judge these men (and women) – through our 21st century sensibilities should be resisted.
This applies to both modern-day “sides.”
I have always politely declined urgings to join the SCV as I believe this organisation – out of defensiveness – has adopted views that contradict the historical record. Yes, the war was about states’ rights, but argument over states’ rights was about slavery and its extension or exclusion from the western territories. No slavery, no war. I salute the SCV for its work in preserving the resting places and monuments of the common soldiers and heroes of the South’s struggle for independence. It is sad that this good work is accompanied all too often by statements villifying Abraham Lincoln and promoting fantasy as history.The conjuring of phantom battalions of black Confederate soldiers is pathetic.
On the other hand, Mr. Levin and his fellows forget that the Confederate generation did not create the slave South – they inherited it. The record historical record also is clear that there were Confederates whose primary motivation was defense of state – not slavery. The Confederacy also evolved during the four years of war. Mr. Levin does an injustice in minimizing the progression of soldiers like Patrick Cleburne, who risked much to place Southern nationalism before slavery and openly advocate emancipation of all slaves (although what “Confederate emancipation” would have looked like is certainly a subject of legitimate debate). Mr. Levin’s recent obsession with trying to debunk the the compassion and heroism of Sgt. Kirkland at Fredericksburg is telling.
Thanks for taking the time to comment. there is much that I agree with in your comment. I’m not sure what you are getting at in your references to Cleburne. Perhaps you can point to a specific post so that I can more easily respond. I’m sorry that you think that my sole purpose is to debunk the Kirkland story. Actually, I am trying to better understand the evolution of the narrative given the fact that there are no wartime accounts. I’m sorry that you believe my questions to be inappropriate.
Speaking of Black Confederates…here is one bloggers plea for documentation.
Don’t know if you have seen this before.
He commented on a previous post on this site.
Here we go again with the cutting off of replies. Kevin, I’m still here because I find the site interesting and entertaining. Forgive me if I am critical of you when I believe you are taking your criticism of others too far. As a blogger, I appreciate when my readers point out flaws in my logic or in my posts. I don’t consider their comments a waste of my time and I don’t cut them off. But this is your site, so my opinion on how you use your bandwidth is simply that, my opinion.
I can understand the need to teach your students about the need to be skeptical when it comes to online sources. I think that’s fine. But as I said before, if you’re trying to use the fact that DeWitt doesn’t have biographical information on her site you could have simply done that and not bothered with all of the editorializing. You take it a step too far – it’s not enough for you to simply discredit the research, you want to go after the researcher too. I think that’s unnecessary and I think it’s petty. If she’s wrong, she’s wrong. Doesn’t matter where she went to school or what her academic credentials are. Degrees and published works don’t make bad facts good facts, nor do they make someone’s opinions more valid than someone else’s.
I don’t mind being criticized. As you can see it happens fairly often and I welcome it. The problem is that this is pretty much all you do. I have my style of blogging and you have yours. Why not just leave it at that. I find it curious that you would lecture me on how to deal with comments and blog content when you allowed one of my disgruntled readers to post a pretty nasty personal attack about me on your site and on a post that had absolutely nothing to do with me.
You say I have taken things a step too far and others may agree with you. Fine. I disagree and will continue to point out problems with websites when I see them.
There’s nothing curious about it. I do not moderate my comments for content or opinion. I run a political site and I take all comers. I’m not that concerned with things remaining “on topic” as that’s not how a conversation generally goes. You came and defended yourself, which is the point. You wouldn’t have disgruntled readers, by the way, if you just let them have their say and ignored it. But, as you said, you have your style and I have mine.
You’re right – I tend to be critical of you. And, if you’ve noticed, it’s not so much about your scholarship, which as far as I can tell seems to be solid – although I am no expert nor claim to be. I am only critical of you when I think you’re going too far with your criticisms. And even then, I only point it out when I think it’s egregious. You’ll note I didn’t bother criticizing you and Andy Hall for calling the reenactor in the SCV video fat – I didn’t see the point. Here, however, I did, because you admittedly know nothing about the woman, and found a way to be critical about that. Go figure.
Well, whatever floats your boat.
You want to know who the woman is and what her background is, it’s a big enough deal to warrant a 400 post (one of many, as you noted), but you aren’t willing to send an email? Instead of spending all your time with whois searches and the rest, just ask her. If she doesn’t respond, there’s your answer. If she does respond, then there’s your answer.
I don’t know why you hold folks who put up a website to a higher standard than folks who write textbooks, produce TV programs or write for newspapers – when was the last time you saw a textbook with the author’s resume pasted in the cover?
What does it matter what her resume is anyway if she’s wrong? What happens if she turns out to be a Rhodes Scholar and Ph.D from Harvard? If she’s wrong, then she’s wrong. Even well educated people can be wrong. I get the feeling your skepticism is a prelude to a character assassination.
You are wasting my time with this comment.
Really? I apologize. I didn’t realize that you were so busy. Given that you had time to write this post up, spend time searching the internet for this woman’s credentials and all, I assumed you had plenty of time on your hands.
The point of the post was simply to shed light on the importance of making sure that when you go to a website you know who is responsible for it. What is so controversial about that?
You said: “I don’t know why you hold folks who put up a website to a higher standard than folks who write textbooks, produce TV programs or write for newspapers – when was the last time you saw a textbook with the author’s resume pasted in the cover?”
Go back through the archives before you make such a ridiculous claim.
lt’s not simply a question of whether she is wrong, but how we go about collecting and judging digital sources. When I teach this in my classes I focus on the difference between .com, .org, edu. I teach my students to look for authorship and signs that the site is credible. All I said was that I tried to track down information about the author as I normally do when analyzing a site. It’s not my job to email these people to ask for information. Why would you make more of this than necessary? It’s a complete waste.
Kevin, there are plenty of ways to go about pointing out the need to confirm online content – if that was the true point of this article, you buried your thesis under a pile of attacks on DeWitt. I’ll take at face value that she’s got bad information on her site that has been discredited here.
I guess the issue that I have is that you really don’t care what her credentials are – if you did, you’d email her. You just want to bash the fact that she doesn’t put her credentials on the site. As I noted before, it doesn’t matter what her credentials are if she’s just putting up a “cut and paste” job and her facts are all wrong.
I’m only “making more of this than necessary” because, once again, you take your disagreement on the black confederate issue one step too far – it’s not enough to simply discredit the scholarship but you seem to want to make it personal. I don’t understand why it’s not good enough with you to simply discredit the scholarship – you like to go after the individuals as well. I think that’s unnecessary.
That, more than anything else, is a waste of time. Vilifying those who disagree with you is unnecessary. This isn’t a contest.
Where exactly did I attack her personally? How could I attack this individual if I don’t know anything about her? The suggestion that I must fire off an email is absurd.
This notion that Kevin needs to email DeWitt is absurd. I already emailed her!
Andy Hall emailed here weeks ago.
Crap. She’s going to think we’re spamming her. I blame you!
That’s fine. She deserves to be questioned. I just want to repeat for the benefit of everyone that I do not think it is our responsibility to contact this woman. The website is intended as a resource for teachers and students and the individual in question asks for donations. It is the responsibility of the author of the site to disclose her credentials/affiliation. I still find it curious that some people have a problem with this. In other words, once you assert authority as a legitimate educational site it is your responsibility to make public your affiliation.
Kevin, you said that her plan “horrified” you. You said you could find nothing about her, and then in the same sentence said “most of these sites are set up by folks who have absolutely no experience working in anything close to the field of historical research or digital history.” The implication is that she is one of those people.
It’s pretty easy to attack someone you don’t know – here the attack is based specifically because you don’t know anything about her. You think you should, and are attacking her because you don’t – otherwise, I don’t know why you bothered with the argument that people have a responsibility to list their resumes on their websites if they want to be taken seriously, etc., etc. She didn’t do that, and you’re criticizing her for it. I think that’s probably fair, but then again, I’m skeptical about what you’d do with the information if you had it.
We’re supposed to be skeptical, right?
Really, this is the personal attack that I supposedly made? Can you hear me laughing?
Supposedly? I think it’s all right there in black and white. If you think it’s funny, go ahead and laugh. Personally, I think it’s laughable that you wasted all this bandwidth on someone whose scholarship you have already debunked.
Thanks for your concern, Brian. But if you thought it was such a waste why are you expending so much time on this silly comments? And why do you spend time on this site at all if what you are reading is a waste of time?
Please don’t waste your time with Mr. Levin. You are very right in saying, “Vilifying those who disagrees with you is unnecessary.” Truth is when someone points out the truth that goes against his truth he goes into vilify mode. It’s his only defense. I was banned from his site last year when I corrected him on a topic. Mr. Levin needs to accept the fact that there were black confederate soldiers who gladly served the south. The website he is whinning about apparently has some truth to it or he wouldn’t be spending so much time on the topic. He sounds more like the website Nazis wanting everyone who has a historical website to answer to the great Levin. (Go ahead Levin and delete my post if it even makes it on the site.)
Is this really supposed to be taken as a serious comment? You said: “Mr. Levin needs to accept the fact that there were black confederate soldiers who gladly served the south.” I don’t need to accept anything if I don’t believe a sufficiently strong argument has been made.
I’ve never seen a textbook that DIDN’T include the author’s credentials fairly prominently, either on the back cover or an “About the Author” page, and in some detail. Educational publishing is actually a very reputation-sensitive business, as teachers rarely have the time or resources to do detailed comparisons of textbooks and often use their knowledge of the authors’ work as a proxy measure.
Thanks Jonathan. The comment was absurd. And anyone who has read this blog knows that I comment extensively on textbooks and other teaching materials.
The only textbooks I have read since I finished my Masters degree in 2004 have been law textbooks and other than the name of the author and what school they are affiliated with, you don’t get much more than that. My Administrative Law textbook was written by Associate Justice of the Supreme court Stephen Breyer and three other authors. There’s no resume – simply what schools they’re all associated with and which academic chairs they hold.
That’s pretty much par for the course for law textbooks. Perhaps the textbooks you guys use are different, but I was speaking from my own experience.
That’s basically what you get in most history textbooks plus references to individuals who assisted in the preparation of the text as well as reviewers. I always encourage my students to look up the authors of their books on their history department website. They should want to know something about the individual who is claiming authority on a particular subject. I use a textbook by Eric Foner, who is a fairly high profile historian. Often I have students who bring in articles or links to videos about the author and I’ve even had a few students email Foner about specific passages. I treat the textbook as something that can be critiqued rather than something that simply needs to be absorbed by students.
There’s no resume – simply what schools they’re all associated with and which academic chairs they hold.
So, their credentials are easy to verify, their other publications (or decisions) easy to track down, and their credibility easy to ascertain.
You seem to have a fixation with resumes: affiliation, area of expertise, and representative publications are more than enough. Also much more than we have in this case.
Did you try emailing her? If Richard got a hold of her, I’m sure you could too.
No, I have not tried to email her nor do I plan on doing so. I am merely pointing out that this site is problematic because we have no idea of the author’s credentials/background/experience.
I am with you on the need for website owners to be more upfront with their background/credentials. Yet, not contacting her seems somewhat silly. I feel like you could figure out whom she is and even recommend she list her credentials on her website with a simple email. That seems a lot more practical than the whole “Who is this mystery woman?!” approach. You obviously want to know since you said you were trying to figure it out.
Now I am curious. Want me to email her?
We’re on the same page, Scott, but do you have any idea how many people I want to know more about? 😀
haha. I only know of DeWitt and Ijames.
I’ve commented on scores of black Confederate websites over the past few years.
Oh, I know. I wasn’t trying to diminish the number. Ijames was the only name I could remember.
I e-mailed Ms. DeWitt after your original post on this subject, and she responded promptly — but without specific information to answer my query. The site is, as you’ve suggested elsewhere, a cut-and-paste job like so many others. I hate to get into the business of speculating on peoples’ motives, but it does seem that a lot of folks get so wrapped up in the notion of revealing a history that’s been denied/obscured/hidden that, whether they have professional history training or not, they lose objectivity and the natural skepticism that should accompany any dramatic new “discovery.”