Entangled in Nonsense

Imagine my surprise yesterday when the headmaster of my school handed me an advanced copy of Kevin Weeks’s and Ann Dewitt’s new book, Entangled in Freedom.  Apparently, Mr. Weeks decided to send a copy to my school along with a letter claiming that I had “slandered my literary work without conducting a formal book review.”  You may remember my recent post in which I offer a few thoughts about the book’s description.  This was not meant as a formal review in any sense, though a number of people expressed their concern that I should have waited until I read the book.  What is interesting, however, is the nature of Mr. Weeks’s overall complaint against me.  In addition to the letter he included my school’s statement of its core values, which reflects a commitment to diversity.  Apparently, my comments about the book reflects my lack of understanding of diversity as seen in this particular story about black Confederates.  Even more interesting is the following accusation:

Does St. Anne’s – Belfield School concur with Mr. Levin that African-American history, regardless of how controversial, should be removed from historical museums and the voices of African-Americans, as mine, be silenced?

I simply have no idea how to respond to such an accusation.  No one is trying to silence anyone and this has nothing to do with a lack of commitment to diversity.  What it has to do with is pointing out history and historical fiction that is fundamentally flawed based on the historical record.  Now that I have a copy of the book I can take a closer look at the content of the story.  Last night I tried to sit down to read the first few pages and somehow I managed to finish the first ten pages.  It’s much worse than I thought.  I understand that historical fiction tends to play looser with the historical record and I understand that children’s books must operate on a simpler conceptual level, but this is ridiculous.  If I somehow find that I can make it through, I will give the book a formal review.

Finally, I still don’t understand why my school is being contacted about this issue.  As I recently stated, this site has no formal connection with the workplace.

35 comments… add one

  • Margaret D. Blough Sep 24, 2010

    What he did was outrageous, but I almost feel sorry for him. The reviewing community for Civil War works, fiction & non-fiction is meticulous and savage towards careless errors. If he can’t handle you, he’ll have a nervous breakdown once the book gets reviewed.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 24, 2010

      I am not so sure this book will be properly reviewed. After all, it looks like a low-budget kids book that will probably slip through the cracks. The story line is just awful. In the first ten pages the main character is seriously debating about choosing to join the Confederate ranks. You have to be completely ignorant of the basic outline of Confederate policy toward free and enslaved blacks to make such a claim. What is it about being a slave that people don’t understand?

  • Mark R. Cheathem Sep 24, 2010

    I’m not a lawyer, but can one slander a work of fiction?

  • Eric Jacobson Sep 24, 2010

    Contacting your employer is what I might term schoolyard intimidation. Keep up the good fight.

  • Justin Howard Sep 24, 2010

    Kevin, the problem is you put yourself out there as the spokesman for all African Americans and if any of them speaks contrary to what you dictate then you label them as ignorant, misguided, duped, unqualified and your former favorite word “silly”. Now you use the term “nonsense”. You pick and choose what works for your premise. The worst case in point is Silas Chandler’s controversy where you have allied yourself with one descendant who is virulently opposed to the notion and yet there is another descendant who has embraced the tradition for many years, and that gentleman you ignore. You speak of H. K. Edgerton and his “antics” as if he were a minstrel show performer. And God forbid, according to you, that an African American academic try to speak on the subject if they are not “historians”, including highly respected professors such as Walter Williams (economist), or Edward Smith (anthropologist), and even recently Henry L. Gates where you have said, “it is truly disturbing to learn that a historian such as Henry L. Gates endorses his shoddy research” referencing Earl Ijames of North Carolina, the state that had more free men of color than any other in the South.
    This does not say that there were tens of thousands of black men in the ranks, but it does say that free men are free of mind and might have been capable of making choices that don’t necessarily fit into your playbook.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 24, 2010

      Mr. Howard,

      Thanks for the comment, but you fail to mention that in every case I offer reasons for certain conclusions. To suggest that I consider myself to be a “spokesman for all African Americans” is absurd and not really worth a response. I have not “allied” myself with one side of the Chandler controversy. I was contacted by a descendant of Silas Chandler, who has done extensive research in her local archives. The information uncovered points to a very different account of Chandler’s Civil War experience than what can be found online, which never include primary source references.

      In this particular case, the authors are distorting the history of slavery, the roles of slaves in Confederate armies, and the policies of the Confederate government. These are the issues that I address.

    • Marianne Davis Sep 24, 2010

      Mr. Howard,
      There were certainly free African American men throughout the South. They were indeed free of mind. But they were by no means free of action. Until the closing weeks of the war, the idea of arming black men, slave or free, was anathema to Confederate leadership. The North struggled with the same issues, and even when they created the USCTs, they insisted on white leadership. I do not doubt that there may have been freemen willing to fight for their homeland in the South, and certainly for their property. But just as with women on both sides, it was not always possible to turn choice into action.

    • EarthTone Sep 28, 2010

      Justin, I disagree with the comment that Kevin has “put (him)self out there as the spokesman for all African Americans.” I see nothing that indicates this.

      He has been a champion for accuracy in the history and memory of so-called Black Confederates. It is not required that he be black or white to do this.

      I, myself, have found his integrity on this issue noteworthy. He is as vigorous on the issue with Confederate partisans as he is with African Americans that he believes get the history wrong. He could easily ignore what some blacks on this subject say, so as not to hurt their sensibilities, and avoid the kind of charges that you are making now. But he has stayed true to his critique of the Black Confederate myth, whoever espouses it. Kudos to him for that.

      (And it’s worth noting that, had he not made such critiques of African Americans espousing the myth, he’d be condemned by some for criticizing only some sets of people on this subject but not others.)

      I appreciate that diverse viewpoints on history can have some value. But such viewpoints are worthless if they are based on myth and not fact. All of Kevin critiques have been based on the content of the speaker’s historical analysis, not the color of their skin. That’s a standard we all should follow.

      • Kevin Levin Sep 28, 2010

        I appreciate that. Thanks

  • Marianne Davis Sep 24, 2010

    Oh for heaven’s sake, I thought it was only we lefties who confused criticism with censorship. To point out error is to encourage correction, not silence. The history of black Americans in this and any conflict is not only a worthy field of inquiry, it is a national imperative. The heretofore invisible in this country, whether black, poor, female or American Indian, must be chronicled along with dead white men. [Please hold the scolding letters, my father was 1/2 Cherokee and considered "Native American" Newspeak nonsense.] But that historical invisibility is all the more reason that their stories be told with careful attention to fact. This is a work of fiction, and as such must be given wide latitude. But it is being targeted for children to teach them what might have been. Unless it is satire or farce, there must be some semblance of reality in the characters and their milieu. We’ve had too much made up history already.

  • Brooks D. Simpson Sep 24, 2010

    Apparently Mr. Weeks wants to play the race card. One could conclude from his complaint that he thinks his work should not be subjected to criticism because he’s African American, and that to subject his work to criticism is in reality an effort to silence him. Is that the impression he wants to leave?

    Kevin’s controversial, but I’ve never seen him claim to speak for all African Americans. He tends to take on people for what they say, not who they are. Usually, when I hear the race of the person invoked, it is by those people who want to tell us that some of the people who believe that there were many black Confederates are African American themselves. That would suggest that we should accept what they say because of the color of their skin and not the content of their argument. That in itself is an interesting way to play the race card, and, in historical context, an ironic one.

  • Nat Turners Son Sep 24, 2010

    Kevin when you called out Earl Ijames over Black confederates you opended a door that they are now using to try and silence you! Your correct but sometime “I know better than you” corrections of those less educated and not following the your standards of research are returning to roost.

    Best of Luck as you move forward. The Race card is like a test tube of Nitro.

  • Woodrowfan Sep 24, 2010

    Interesting. Ms. DeWitt emphasizes how she was taught “forgiveness” and then attacks her critic, not by proving him wrong, but by trying to get him into trouble with his employer. I guess she learned her lessons on “forgiveness” about as well as she’s learned her history of African-Americans in the Civil War…

    • Kevin Levin Sep 24, 2010

      The letter was written by co-author, Kevin M. Weeks.

  • JMRudy Sep 24, 2010

    It’s very interesting that this hits today.

    Bruce Levine’s presentation today in Norfolk dispelling black confederates was comprehensive, cogent and about 10 minutes long. I think it will help in situations like this, once the archived session is up on the VA CW150 site. I also think your forthcoming book will help in these situations.

    Being able to say “Go spend ten minutes watching this video clip” or “Just go read Kevin Levin’s book” will be so convenient than shouting down the black confederates crowd.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 25, 2010

      or go read, Bruce Levine’s book, _Confederate Emancipation_ right now.

    • Margaret D. Blough Sep 25, 2010

      So you were here too. You are right. Bruce’s presentation would have made the trip from PA worthwhlle by itself (the others were excellent too especially Dwight Pitcaithley’s presentation on the the issues and pressures facing public historians) I was fotunate enough to get a chance to talk to him a couple of times during breaks.

      • Kevin Levin Sep 25, 2010

        One news item reported that there were 15,000 people in attendance. Is this true? I do wish I could have been there.

        • JMRudy Sep 25, 2010

          I highly doubt that number. The hall is listed on the NSU website as rated for 1,800. Only a handful of folks were up in the balcony. I’d say it was more pushing to about a thousand, max. But I can be bad with numbers sometimes.

          It WAS interesting to note how many people refused to clap or stand when Bob MacDonald got up to speak, and after he was finished. There were still (rightfully) a lot of hurt and angry people in that room after April’s debacle.

          It looks like, from the schedule, we won’t see another of these that is really worthwhile until we get to 2014. The intervening years look focused on the same old battle tactics, unit movements and boxes on maps, judging by title and moderator choices. 2014 is Civil War in a global context and 2015 is CW in memory, which might prove to be very interesting.

          Margaret: I wish they had offered nametags. I’d have loved to sit and chat with you over lunch. Mental note for next time – bring my own vain-glorious nametag. ;-)

          • Kevin Levin Sep 25, 2010

            It’s understandable that some decided not to get up and/or clap, but that doesn’t negate the fact that his remarks were just what was needed. I am still pleasantly surprised that he has decided to change the designation. All of these conferences will be worthwhile. Remember, there was a bloody 4-yr war and we would do well to try to understand it better.

            • JMRudy Sep 26, 2010

              I do agree that the change in designation is a shock. His acknowledgment that we all need to come together, “White, Black and Brown,” to come to a deeper understanding of the meanings of the war was also deeply shocking. I just hope the change is real and not feigned.

              I guess that my new found (last 4 years or so) focus on abolitionism and the racial / social conflicts engendered by the war has jaded me toward military history. I would like to understand the concept of the military more, as long as the discussion goes beyond tactics into some of the deeper socio-military subjects that shaped the outcomes of battles. Looking at the slate of speakers for next spring, I’m not sure how far we’ll get beyond the pure military. I’m a dirty ivory-tower academic at heart, I guess, in spite of working in public history. ;-)

              That having been said, I’ll more than likely be in Blacksburg in the spring, if nothing else than to sit in the back and draw comparisons between 100th and 150th anniversary commemorations in my internal peanut gallery.

              • Margaret D. Blough Sep 26, 2010

                JM-The more you post, the more I regret that we didn’t get to talk at the Norfolk conference. I’ve always enjoyed military AND political/social history. In fact, I started out with my primary interest in the American Revolutionary War and the Federalist period. However, I think a lot of the Civil War strictly military history is starting to get a little repetitive while there’s an amazing amount of truly amazing work being done in the political/social aspects of the Civil War and the antebellum period. Of course, it’s not a strictly either/or proposition, IMHO. I think as McPherson showed in “Battle Cry of Freedom” and Piston and Hatcher showed in “Wilson’s Creek”, a comprehensive approach showing both and the interaction produces a much richer, more fascinating woke. In the case of the latter, I’m not sure how one could begin to comprehend the battle without having a clue as to the incredibly complex, even by CW standards, events and personalities leading up to it.

                I haven’t decided about next year, yet.

          • Margaret D. Blough Sep 25, 2010

            JM-I was a little annoyed at the lack of name tags too. Next time something like this comes up, we’ll have to arrange a meeting place for CW Memory posters.

            Ironically, the only people I knew without them were most of the presenters. I’ve run into James McPherson at enough events that he appears to recognize me (or at least I look familiar to him). Of course, he’s so nice and courteous, it’s kind of hard to tell. I know Dwight Pitcaithley pretty well from various NPS matters, especially at Gettysburg. I totally loved meeting and getting to talk to Bruce Levine.

            I have to hand to it to the Governor, though. It’s easy enough for a politician to find a scheduling conflict and he faced the subject head-on & admitted that he had blown it big time and would work to do far better in the future.

            I wonder why they closed registration. I think they could have handled more people. The panels were wonderful including the audio-visual but the logistics (parking, meals, etc.) left something to be desired. I agree with you about the upcoming programs.

            • JMRudy Sep 26, 2010

              So then is it’s decided: unofficial meetup of CWMemory readers, lunch at the next VACW150 conference?

              • Margaret D. Blough Sep 26, 2010

                Yes, but, as we both agree, the next interesting sounding one will be several years from now. We’ll have to keep an eye on what’s coming up. Now that I’m retired, I’m able to go to more now that I don’t have to keep an eye on my leave balance.

  • EarthTone Sep 25, 2010

    What I find troubling in the letter from Mr Meeks is the implied notion that because his is an “African-Ameican” voice, it therefore has some inherent value in the consideration of this particular subject.

    The fact that he is African American lends no particular credibility or legitimacy to his comments… just because a comment comes from a “diverse” source does not mean it righteous.

    • Marc Ferguson Sep 25, 2010

      It’s the equivalent to the “Southron” claim that only Southerners can understand the history of the American South, Southern slavery, and the motivations of white Southerners to fight.

      • Andy Hall Sep 26, 2010

        It’s a closed-shop workplace. Only True Southrons™ can understand the history of the American South, and True Southrons are defined by their fealty to Lost Cause orthodoxy. Anyone else is a Yankee, a scalawag or (in Kevin’s case) a carpetbagger. Academic qualifications, birth or residence in the South, or Confederate genealogy is irrelevant.

        • Woodrowfan Sep 27, 2010

          A Southern “true-believer” once told me that he understood the Civil War better than I did because he was (distantly) related to the Lees.* And yes, he was of the “it was over tariffs, not slavery” and “Lincoln was the worst tyrant ever!” schools…

          *He didn’t even claim that he was descended to Robert E. He just said that some of his ancestors were “named Lee.”

  • Mannie Gentile Sep 29, 2010

    Kevin,

    I’m unable to follow the above conversations as I am so bedazzled by the remarkably crappy cover art. That kepi is from a battlefield gift shop and the jacket looks like “Dr Kildare goes south”.

    Maybe I’m just being picky.

  • Reed Walters Feb 5, 2011

    It’s ashamed that Mr. Levin would attack someone who is simply trying to make people aware that there were blacks serving in the ranks of the Confederate army. Mr. Levin is upset that this site targets students and teachers. Why is he so upset that another side is being presented? If this website is so bogus why is Mr. Levin spending so much time trying to tear it down? Just a thought.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 5, 2011

      Instead of whining about this post why not take the time to offer a specific criticism. Which points specifically do you disagree with and why? Let’s see if you can actually put forward a coherent argument.

      • Reed Walters Feb 5, 2011

        I’m sure if I did make a “coherent argument” that proved you wrong you would quickly ban me from your blog. I’ll use my energies on more scholarly sites.

        • Kevin Levin Feb 5, 2011

          Like I said, I didn’t expect much more than an incoherent rant. Thanks for stopping by.

          • Reed Walters Feb 5, 2011

            Mr. Walters,

            I think you’ve demonstrated that you are incapable of engaging in a mature discussion, which is why your comments will no longer be approved. Thanks for taking the time to read Civil War Memory.

            KL

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