Earl Ijames and His “Colored Confederate” Fantasy Continues

I haven’t written about Earl Ijames on this blog in quite some time. The curator at the North Carolina Museum of History is notorious for his presentations and even film about what he calls “Colored Confederates” – another misnomer that distorts the legal status and role of the vast majority of black men who labored for the Confederacy during the war. A friend recently attended a symposium at the Bennett Place State Historic Site in North Carolina which featured Ijames as a speaker. Not surprisingly, Ijames continues to butcher history by arguing that Confederate army was not segregated (unlike the Union army) and that black Confederates were “real soldiers, with real muskets, shooting at Union soldiers.” This is bad enough, but one slide in particular highlights the level of confusion and ignorance of Earl Ijames.

The slide featured an image of Hawkins Carter and his pension application. The accompanying interpretation of the pension by Ijames includes the claim that Carter “enlisted in the 46th Regt. NCT in 1861” followed by an excerpt from a description of where Hawkins was during the war further down.

North Carolina was one of four former Confederate states in the 1920s that extended their pension programs to include former body servants or what I call camp slaves in Searching For Black Confederates. Of these four states, North Carolina chose not to use a separate pension application for this specific group. Instead they altered the one used for real soldiers. And that is exactly what they did in the case of Carter.

The word “enlisted” is clearly crossed out and in its place the words “who went with” are added. Those words were meant to denote the legal status of Carter during the war. If that wasn’t sufficiently clear, the word “servant” was added above the next line.

Hawkins Carter was not a “black Confederate” or a “Colored Confederate” and he certainly did not “enlist” in any Confederate unit during the war. He was a slave. Slaves did not enlist in the Confederate army.

Let’s be clear, this is not a difference of opinion or interpretation. We are talking about an inability to engage in the most basic analysis of a primary source and a complete lack of understanding of the relevant historical context.

It is troubling – to say the least – that Earl Ijames continues to be given a forum to spout this nonsense. As an archivist at a prominent museum, who is allowed to speak alongside real historians, Ijames is inevitably going to be seen as an authority on this subject. He is going to be believed by most people who place their trust in institutions to feature competent and trained speakers in their respective fields.

About the author: Thank you for taking the time to read this post. What next? Scroll down and join the discussion in the comments section. Looking for more Civil War content? You can follow me on Twitter. Check out my forthcoming book, Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, which is the first book-length analysis of the black Confederate myth ever published. Pre-order your copy today.

22 comments… add one
  • Ryan Trainor May 3, 2019 @ 3:02

    Professional archivists have a responsibility to offer accurate interpretation of the records they steward. This feels like someone has an agenda. I am not familiar with this museum, but I might guess a few underlying causes of such recklessness: the “archivist” is not trained in archival theory through an ALA accredited program or certification, or there is an organizational and/or cultural push in the museum, perhaps driven by funding or membership pressures, to wield this narrative as a way to engage their audience based on their socio-political or demographics. It is irresponsible stewardship but it also sounds as if an agenda is being pushed over a fairly straightforward example.

    • Kevin Levin May 3, 2019 @ 3:05

      Ijames has been pushing this nonsense for years. I am not familiar with his formal training, but he has maintained a close relationship with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

      • Robert Bailey May 3, 2019 @ 21:43

        Where do these folks come from? As a past SCV camp commander we from time to time were faced with a questionable applicant who by lineage wanted to associate with us. Woe be to you if you took a chance and let your guard down.

        • Kevin Levin May 4, 2019 @ 1:37

          Hi Robert,

          Thanks for taking the time to comment, but I am not sure I entirely understand your point.

  • Michael Amaral May 3, 2019 @ 3:59

    Folks have been claiming “Rebel Authority” for over 150 years, Kevin. Its clear to me what the pension application reads, however you said that is says “servant” on the line below…I see it as ” as servant”…which only reinforces your argument. By the way, The Walpole Board of Selectmen recently appointed me as an Associate Member of the Historical Commission a few weeks ago. History needs to be defended in the face of those that wish to rewrite it….

    • Kevin Levin May 3, 2019 @ 4:03

      Congratulations on your new position.

      The level of incompetency on the part of Ijames is bewildering to me. Again, it’s not simply a matter of competing interpretations. He is just flat out wrong. Thanks for the comment.

  • Bob Beatty May 3, 2019 @ 5:22

    Interestingly enough, the archivist field has long-established policies that preclude them from interpreting documents altogether. I think that’s changing, but for the most part, they are trained to just present/preserve the material and that’s about it.

    • Kevin Levin May 3, 2019 @ 5:28

      Thanks, Bob.

  • Rob Baker May 3, 2019 @ 7:36

    How unfortunate.

    The title next to his name certainly adds a tremendous amount of street cred for any casual reader. Ijames’s analysis and interpretation of documents is just absolutely horrid and misleading. At what point does it verge on outright lies? I have no idea what his educational background but it’s obvious he lacks training to interpret documents.

    And I agree with you Kevin, it’s very unnerving that he continues to get a forum to engage in pseudo-history. It would be one thing if that forum was a right leaning media outlet but the fact that it is an institution of history, education, and preservation is all the more horrific.

    • Andy Hall May 3, 2019 @ 10:40

      Rob, there’s an audience for the story he’s offering. Most of the audiences he speaks to, I’d guess, not only want to be assured of the willing and patriotic service of “Colored Confederates,” but wouldn’t be able to catch the holes in his interpretation if they wanted to. I’ve been in the same situation innumerable times, and it’s only the commitment of the speaker to accuracy and the original sources that keep him or her on the track. There aren’t any real guard rails to keep the speaker from swerving off into the ditch.

      • Rob Baker May 3, 2019 @ 10:50

        I definitely don’t disagree with that

      • Kevin Levin May 3, 2019 @ 10:51

        That is certainly the case, but as far as I can tell this most recent talk was not in a venue of Confederate apologists. Regardless, Earl Ijames has no business discussing this subject in any public setting.

  • Louis Drew May 3, 2019 @ 12:33

    It seems to me that anyone who is able to read should be able to see that you’ve interpreted the document correctly. Mr. Ijames, not so much…

    • Kevin Levin May 3, 2019 @ 12:40

      I assume any reasonable person can see this.

  • Andy Hall May 4, 2019 @ 8:09

    Here is a link to a high-res version of the Hawkins Carter application.

    https://deadconfederates.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/carter01.jpg

    • Kevin Levin May 4, 2019 @ 8:43

      Thanks, Andy.

  • Jalane Schmidt May 4, 2019 @ 8:45

    The NC Museum of History is a Smithsonian affiliate. It is ridiculous that this person spouts his pseudo history at taxpayer expense.

    • Gwen Goodkin May 5, 2019 @ 2:37

      That sounds worth pursuing with the Smithsonian!

  • David Doggett May 4, 2019 @ 16:42

    How do the “colored Confederates” revisionists explain the fact that it was against Confederate law to enlist blacks as soldiers, until the last desparate months of the War, and there is no evidence it happened then?

    • Cliosfanboy May 5, 2019 @ 9:30

      the same way they explain how the confederate states in 1860-61 declared that they were leaving the Union because Lincoln’s election threatened slavery without mentioning tariffs. They ignore it.

    • Shane Anderson May 5, 2019 @ 10:44

      I’m amused that you’d think “rebels” would be sticklers for obeying the law. In any case, the states in the CS did as they pleased with regard to enlisting black men, mainly for labor but sometimes for combat duty, without asking for or waiting for permission from the CS federal government. And sometimes men were enlisted regardless of color for one reason or another. If a commander needed men, or a black man proved he could fight, sometimes men in the field would look the other way. None of this adds up to a large amount of black combatants in the Confederate ranks, though the number was higher than zero, certainly. You’re barking up the wrong tree if you think the federal law was strictly observed at all times or if you think the states didn’t take their own measures for their own militia ahd home guard units.

      • Kevin Levin May 5, 2019 @ 12:37

        Of course you have all the wartime documentation to back up these claims.

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