Those of you who have followed this blog and commentary about the myth of the black Confederate soldier are all too familiar with Earl Ijames, who is a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. Ijames claims to be an expert on what he refers to as “Confederates of Color.” It is an incredibly confusing and unhelpful reference. He is a popular speaker and beloved by Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Abbeville Institute. This past summer Ijames addressed the latter at their annual summer institute. [The video below was uploaded to YouTube on 12/21] I have little doubt that the audience enjoyed his presentation, but it should come as no surprise that it is an absolute mess.
Ijames’s talk is heavy on personal stories and individual accounts, but fails to present much in terms of historical context, especially when it comes to understanding the evolution of the Confederacy’s position on the role of free and enslaved blacks. Ijames fails to address the very public debate that took place in the Confederacy from early 1864 through to close to the end of the war about, slavery, white supremacy, and the place of blacks in the Confederate army. Not surprisingly, this talk also contains very little serious analysis of his sources.
More disturbing are the outright mistakes and distortions. Ijames refers to the fall of New Orleans as having taken place in 1861 and the First Confiscation Act as being passed in 1862. Early on he references the famous photograph of the Louisiana Native Guard that is actually a photograph of Union soldiers that has been intentionally altered. Wow!
James McPherson did not win a Pulitzer Prize for The Negro’s Civil War and John Parker, who Ijames cites from the text was not “formerly enslaved” before the first battle of Manassas.
Even Weary Clyburn, who Ijames has devoted a good deal of research to over the years is confusing. He claims that Clyburn chose to join his master during his training as an officer and cites his pension file as evidence. Perhaps we have different pension files. One affidavit states that “he [WC] went to Columbia with his master to training camp; thence to Charleston, Morris Island, Page’s Point and Hilton Head and other places throughout the war; that at Hilton Head, while under fire of the enemy he carried his master out of the field of fire on his shoulder; that he performed personal services for Robert E. Lee…”
After all these years, Ijames apparently has no better understanding of the racial and political context of pensions for former slaves than when he started. I am playing with the idea of an entire chapter on the pension program in my book with Weary Clyburn as the central figure.
I wouldn’t get so bent out of shape about this talk, but it is now available for everyone to see. Certainly, Ijames work as a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History will continue to prove beneficial as he presents his new movie on the subject. As for me, it’s just another reason to keep plugging away at the book.