Bringing Earl Ijames to You

Update: I now have the audio of this talk.  Unfortunately, the files are very large and as it stands I am unable to upload them for your listening pleasure. I will continue to work on this.  The talk is literally just a string of individual stories strung together.  There is almost no analysis of the documents or the broader issue of slavery and race in the Confederate South.

A couple of weeks ago one of my regular readers mentioned that he would be in town for Earl Ijames’s recent talk on “Colored Confederates” as part of the 21st Annual Savannah Black Heritage Festival.  Well, not only did this reader attend the talk, he took detailed notes as well as an audio recording of the presentation.  I have not heard the audio yet, but I am going to share the notes.  As you will see, it looks like this presentation rests on a great deal of circumstantial and weak evidence.  In fact, there is nothing surprising in terms of the kind of evidence that is typically offered in these cases.  The inclusion of so many pension records is quite telling.  So now we have a list of so-called black Confederates which can be easily checked and examined.  Apparently, during the talk Ijames mentioned that Henry Louis Gates Jr. contacted him during the research for the documentary “Looking for Lincoln.”  Gates wanted a firm number of “black confederates” to quote in the film.  Ijames responded, “only God in his holy archives really knows.”  I don’t really know how to respond to such a statement.  I have yet to hear from anyone at the North Carolina Museum of History or North Carolina Office of Archives and History re: Mr. Ijames’s unprofessional response to my request for his presentation.  Clearly, most of the documents cited in this talk were pulled from the NCDAH.  At this point we must assume that Mr. Ijames speaks for both institutions and that these institutions sanction his public presentations.  Here are the notes:

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, XVI, Part 1, p. 805
“There were also quite a number of negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day.”

Jeremiah Day Letter (In NC Archives?)
Manuscript letter dated August 22, 1861 written to North Carolina governor Henry Toole Clark.  Day, a free black, writes of two sons “in the army,” and wants the governor to return a younger son conscripted into “service” for the army.

Hawkins W. Carter
A black man from Warren County, NC who claimed in his pension application to “fighting seven days with the Confederacy.”

John W. Venable
Enough said already.

C. M. McKaughan
Pension application filed July 23, 1929 (after mentioning McKaughan, Ijames went into a long diatribe about North Carolina Governor Charles B. Aycock, whose administration “kept blacks” from seeking pensions)

Tarboro Southerner, Saturday April 30, 1864
Notice for free blacks to register for “service.”

Miles Reed
North Carolina Troops Service Record, dated May 24, 1864.  Private Reed noted as a “free negro.”

Daniel Brooks
A black man interviewed by the High Point Enterprise on June 7, 1942.  (Ijames admitted to getting this information from an SCV member).  In the interview, Brooks claimed his master “enlisted” him to “build roads” for the Confederate Army.  He also worked on constructing defensive works before the Battle of Bentonville (Ijames claimed this as evidence for black “pioneer battalions” in the Confederate Army).

Lewis Douglas
A black man from Bertie County, NC that claimed in a 1928 pension application to serving as an “office boy” for a Confederate surgeon.

Adam Moore
A black man from Lincoln County, NC who claimed in a pension application dated February 6, 1931, that “I did my best for the Confederate Army.”  Furthermore, Moore mentioned officials “press[ing] me into service” to haul gold bullion for the Confederate Treasury.  (After this example, Ijames said he “would rather believe Adam Moore than some college professor.”  Greeted with applause from crowd).

Rufus Holloway
Quoted by the Raleigh News & Observer on July 24, 1955 as a member of the “slave army.”  Worked as a “body servant” for Dr. Tom Holloway.

Isaac High
In a pension application, High recalled his master “sending” him along with three other black men, Wylie Richardson, Porter Hunter, and Abe Dunn, to build obstructions at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.  High also worked on earthworks around Raleigh.  High wanted the pension since he “own[ed] a farm of 25 acres that has a mortgage of $700 and I can’t pay the interest.”  He claimed that during eighteen months of working for the Confederate Army, he “never received any compensation for the work rendered.”

Archibald McLean Letter (In NC Archives?)
In an August 1861 letter to North Carolina Governor Henry Toole Clark, the mayor of Fayetteville, NC discusses slaves working on arms in the former Federal Arsenal and performing “police duties.”

Confederate Veterans Reunion Photograph
Ijames exhibited a photograph dated 1925 from a reunion of the 45th North Carolina Infantry Regiment, Company C in High Point, North Carolina.  He pointed to the dark complexions of three men in the picture as photographic evidence of black Confederates.  He referred to one as Sergeant H.L. P. Watson.

Harper’s Weekly
Ijames displayed the infamous “Negro Pickets” sketch from the January 10, 1863 issue of the periodical.

Note: I want to thank my anonymous reader for taking the time to attend the talk and especially for taking such detailed notes that can be used as the basis for further exploration. I think it’s safe to say that a public debate between myself and Mr. Ijames is unnecessary at this point.

“All His Life He Was a White Man’s Darkey”

One of the most disturbing aspects of so called accounts of “black Confederates” is the almost complete absence of the voice of the individuals themselves.  All too often these men are treated as a means to an end.  Accounts all too often reduce complex questions of motivation to one of loyalty to master, army, and Confederate nation.  Organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy [see here and here] now routinely publicize the discovery of what they believe to be black Confederate soldiers and in some cases even involve the descendants of these men, who almost always turn out to be slaves.  What is so striking is the failure on their part to acknowledge their roles as slaves even in the face of overwhelming evidence.  It is important that we see this as little more than the extension of the faithful slave narrative that found voice before the war and reached its height at the turn of the twentieth century.  Apart from the ability to influence the general public through websites, blogs, and other social media formats there is really little that is new in the more recent drives to rewrite black Confederates into the past.  The war, in the end, had little or nothing to do with slavery and slaves remained loyal throughout.

The extension of this faithful slave narrative in recent years can be clearly discerned in the case of Weary Clyburn.  I’ve talked quite a bit about Clyburn over the past few years and in recent weeks.  He seems to be the darling of heritage groups like the SCV as well as a favorite of curator Earl Ijames.  Consider the recent SCV ceremony that acknowledged Clyburn for his loyal service to the Confederacy and resulted in a military marker.  Sadly, this ceremony involved the descendants of Clyburn and gave them the false understanding that he had served in the army.  Clyburn was, in fact, a slave; however, that little fact is never mentioned during the ceremony and it is rarely mentioned in most modern accounts.  In the midst of all the flags, bagpipes, and praise by SCV speakers and Earl Ijames we learn absolutely nothing about Clyburn himself.  What we, along with Clyburn’s descendants, learn is what falls within the boundaries of the faithful slave narrative that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Consider Clyburn’s obituary, which appeared in the Monore Journal on April 1, 1930 under the title, “Old Colored Man Is Buried in the Uniform of Gray.”  He was given this “honor by reason of having been in the Confederate ranks and a life time of faithfulness to the men and their descendants who made up the Confederate armies.”  The obituary is clear to point out the distinction between being “in” the Confederate ranks and serving as a soldier.  Later in the notice the writer does note that Clyburn went to war to “cook for his master, Col. Frank Clyburn of the 12th South Carolina Regiment.”  The story of Weary saving Frank on the battlefield is referenced, which fits perfectly in the overall emphasis on faithfulness.

Had Uncle Weary been a white man he would have been a Confederate hotspur.  Being dark of skin and born a slave he could approach his ideal by being as near as the fighting white folks that he grew up among as his skin and lack of education would allow.  All his life he was a white man’s darkey and his principle did not change when came back from the war.  He went with his white folks and became a Democrat.

It’s a remarkable passage and tells us quite a bit about what white North Carolinians chose to remember about Clyburn’s life.  At every point, beginning with a reference to “Uncle” is the man himself ignored.  He was worth remembering because his actions could so easily be interpreted in a way that would not upset a well-established Jim Crow society by 1930 and at the same maintain their belief in loyal blacks both before, during and after the war.  After the war Clyburn was best known for his participation in Confederate veteran reunions; however, he apparently was never acknowledged as a soldier.  Rather, he played the fiddle at these events and around area hotels to bring in money.

The tragedy in all of this is that Weary Clyburn’s past did not have to be distorted for it to be recognized and honored.  The point that needs to be made is that Clyburn is a hero.  He survived the horrors and humiliation of slavery and war and even managed to make it through the height of the Jim Crow South.  If that is not worthy of remembering and commemorating than I don’t know what is.  Unfortunately, we may never be able to fill in the details of Clyburn’s life, which is itself part of the legacy of slavery and racism in this country.  Sadly, Clyburn is still playing the fiddle for various groups and individuals who for one reason or another choose to distort the past.

“The Tough Stuff of American History and Memory”

Registration for the second “Signature Conference” sponsored by the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission opened this week.  This year’s conference will take place at Norfolk State University on September 24, 2010 and will focus on the issues of race and slavery.  Norfolk State is an ideal place given its location.  It was one of those places where the war changed on the ground as scores of slaves made their way into Union lines.  Like last year the commission has assembled a dynamite team of scholars for the various panels.  They include, James O. Horton, who will chair the event, James McPherson, Ira Berlin, David Blight, Dwight Pitcaithley, among others.  Perhaps our friend Earl Ijames should attend to hear Bruce Levine discuss the myth of black Confederates.

This promises to be another entertaining and educational experience and I encourage all of you to register as soon as possible.  I have been asked to live blog the event, which I agreed to do. Given my experience last year I have a much better idea of how to go about it.  Hope to see you there.

The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861

Here is the second post in the ongoing series on Civil War classics written by students in Prof. Peter Carmichael’s graduate seminar. Today Joseph Rizzo reviews David Potter’s classic, The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861Read other reviews in the series.

Professional historians, to varying degrees, believe that slavery was elemental to the coming of the Civil War.  While there is disagreement as to the ways that the conflict over slavery and wage labor infused sectional differences, David Potter has arguably done more than any other scholar to forge a consensus on this issue.  In Impending Crisis, he explores the different ways that slavery ignited the sectional conflict while refuting generalizations that describe the North and South as culturally different. Some saw the struggle as a clash of profoundly dissimilar cultures whose disparities transcended the difference over slavery. Others had a more economic opinion and viewed the conflict as a clash between economic interests of an emerging industrialist North and an agricultural South.  A third viewpoint saw the conflict arising from different values between the sections. Potter’s criticism with these three arguments is that they all embellish the differences between the North and South and fail to see the similarities between the two regions. Potter displays how similar northerners and southerners were, and that a sense of American nationalism permeated both cultures more than historians have acknowledged.

Although the cultural, economic, and ideological explanations recognize slavery as an issue in sectional division, they neglect its significance within American culture. Potter shows how slavery was a key element to all three of the explanations for division. “Slavery, in one aspect or another, pervaded all of the aspects of sectionalism,” argues Potter (44). In spite of the American nationalism and cultural homogeneity between the North and South, the slavery issue intensified following the acquisition of new territory following the Mexican-American War and caused both northerners and southerners to lose sight of how much alike they were and how many values they shared. With a breakdown of the two-party system nationally, the Election of 1860 represented how much the slavery issue isolated the two regions as the young Republican party won a victory despite only receiving Northern votes. Not surprisingly, the breakup of the country followed soon after.

By placing slavery at the forefront of the conflict, Potter continues the debate over the main cause of the war. Was the war inevitable? Was slavery the main cause? Michael Holt has led a movement against Potter’s interpretation and responded with a study claiming that slavery was not the central reason, and that the breakdown of the two-party political system caused disunion. William Freehling’s work adds to the historiography by arguing that the South’s culture was not unified over slavery and that these internal divisions fostered anxieties, which fueled extremism. Future studies that elaborate from Potter’s traditional political narrative and infuse political culture will give a more complete analysis of 1850s. Not only understanding how Americans viewed singular events but also how they interpreted the world in which they lived will open new discussions about the causes of the war.

Exploring the Rebel Yell with Waite Rawls

I am a fervent supporter of the mission of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond and its President and CEO Waite Rawls.  The museum has had to deal with some difficult financial challenges over the past few years as well as defending its reputation in a city that has found it difficult to come to terms with its Confederate past.  Through all of this Mr. Rawls has done an excellent job of maintaining the museum as an educational and research institution.  In this video Mr. Rawls discusses the research that went into trying to uncover what the famous Rebel Yell sounded like.  Click here for Part 2 as well as the rest of the MOC’s videos on YouTube.  Enjoy.