Earl Ijames’s Silence is Deafening (Part 2)

As many of you know fellow blogger and historian, Brooks Simpson, graciously offered Civil Warriors as a forum for Earl Ijames to share his research on “Colored Confederates”.  I agreed to the online debate with Mr. Ijames as it would allow all of us to consider his research and analysis.  Prof. Simpson also offered to organize a session at an upcoming academic conference on the subject, which would have opened up the discussion to the wider academic community.  Unfortunately, Mr. Ijames has not responded to the offer even after challenging me to “debate” him in public.  I can’t say that I am surprised.  It is important for the North Carolina Museum of History and North Carolina Office of Archives and History to understand that I will continue to pursue this matter until they take action.  Legitimate questions have been raised and Mr. Ijames is either unwilling or incapable of addressing these concerns in a way that conforms to accepted scholarly practice.  Continued silence on the part of Deputy Secretary Dr. Jeffrey J. Crow and others must be interpreted as tacit endorsement of Mr. Ijames’s research and his handling of this matter.

Thanks again to Brooks Simpson for offering to organize and host an online debate.  I am reposting his update here for your consideration:

It looks as if Earl Ijames has declined to participate in a discussion about his findings concerning black Confederate military service.  His response to me indicated that he did not want to share his findings in an online medium: it also indicated that he was a bit uncertain as to what that entailed.  I explained to him that perhaps it would be just as well to appear at a professional conference, but he did not reply to that idea.

I’m a bit puzzled by all this.  Scholars routinely share conference papers, with footnotes indicating sources, for their colleagues to examine.  They also do not stay away from serious professional conferences attended by their peers.  It’s one thing to give a talk at the local historical society: it’s quite another to speak at a meeting of the Southern Historical Association.

The task before Mr. Ijames was a simple one.  He could have posted a paper outlining his findings and displaying his evidence, or he could have done the same thing at a professional conference.  I would have preferred the former, because the audience would be much broader, and that audience would break down the usual divide some bloggers and others harp on all the time.  Mr. Ijames was not unwilling to debate Kevin Levin at a forum of his own choosing, but those forums did not lend themselves to the analysis of evidence.

It also struck me as interesting that several people who chose to comment on this invitation in various blogs, including one since taken down, were eager for Mr. Levin to accept Mr. Ijames’s offer to debate, but raised all sorts of questions when Mr. Levin welcomed the opportunity to discuss this matter in an online forum, where the results would be more transparent and widely circulated.  Indeed, a few of them declared that an invitation to discuss the matter in an open forum where all could view the proceedings was in fact an effort to prevent such discussion.  I will add that Mr. Ijames did not express such reservations as to whether he was being lured into a discussion in a biased forum: he expressed no concerns to me on that score.  The people who expressed those reservations have in various forums already expressed their opinions on this issue, although most of them are reluctant to do so under their own name.

I don’t see the problem with an open discussion of this question.   I understand Mr. Ijames’s reservations, although I don’t think they are reasonable: they seem to be based upon a notion of blogs as a strange new world with which he’s uncomfortable.  As for those who failed to raise any ojections when Mr. Ijames proposed forums of his own choice but who were eager to raise objections to having a discussion in the clear light of day on a blog, well, you’ll have to tell me why they were scared to discuss this issue out in the open and why they attempted to subvert free and open discussion.  I suspect Mr. Levin will not hesitate to remind them of this in the future.

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Vikki Bynum Acknowledges Civil War Bloggers

I have been looking forward to Vikki Bynum’s new study, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, for quite some time.  That anticipation has been fueled, in part, by her ever growing presence in the blogosphere at Renegade South, which is one of my favorite sites.  It’s just the kind of site that I hoped would come out of a talk I gave last year at the annual meeting of the Society for Civil War Historians.

As I was perusing the acknowledgments section I was pleasantly surprised to find an entire paragraph devoted to some of her new friends in the Civil War blogosphere:

Besides introducing me to the thoughtful comments of folks who revere the craft of history, various internet blogsites have brought cyberspace debates about race, the Civil War, and the Myth of the Lost Cause right to my desktop.  Wading into discussions on Frank Sweet and A.G. Powell’s “Study of Racialism” or Kevin M. Levin’s “Civil War Memory” is not for the faint of heart but always stimulating!  My thanks to Robert Moore of “Cenantua” for inviting me to post on his special blogsite “Southern Unionist Chronicles.”  Serious bloggers, I have learned, are among the hardest-working and most intellectually astute members of the history profession.

It’s nice to be singled out in an academic study written by a historian of Vikki’s caliber.  More importantly, it’s a sign that blogging has a place in the profession and that it can help to advance serious study of the past and bring those debates to the attention of a wide audience.  While more scholars are acknowledging the benefits of blogging and other forms of social media it has yet to be accepted as part of the academic mainstream.  That will happen as more scholars openly acknowledge its role in their research and professional lives.

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Civil War Trading Cards

For some of my older readers this post may bring back some fond memories of childhood and the Civil War Centennial.  Below is a small selection of Civil War cards that was released in 1962 by Topps.  Two additional collections of Civil War cards were also released which you can read about here.  Of course, I remember collecting baseball cards, but I am pretty sure that this series had been retired long before I took the weekly allowance down to the local candy store.  What I find so striking is the scale of violence depicted on some of these cards.  I have no doubt that they are responsible for fueling many a young boy’s imagination.  Click here for a much larger collection of cards as well as a price list.  Enjoy!

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Remembering Alabama’s Secession and “Lincoln bin laden”

You gotta love these commemorative events that on the surface seem to be about the Civil War, but are little more than forums for folks to complain about what they perceive to be our own oppressive government.  They always seem to bring together a true cast of characters.  In this case there is John Eidsmoe, Professor Emeritus of Constitutional Law Emeritus at the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, who goes on and on about the compact theory of government and states rights as an explanation for Alabama’s secession without ever mentioning slavery, as well as a woman who wears a t-shirt with Frederick Douglass, who she believes was an advocate for limited government.   All of them were brought together as a result of one Patricia Godwin who believes that the decision on the part of Confederate forces to fire on Fort Sumter was carried out because “Lin­coln bin laden had fortified the fort with arms and sup­plies.”  By the way, you won’t find one black person in the audience.  I guess they don’t remember secession as a crucial moment of freedom from an oppressive government.  The best part of this video is the end when a few of the participants are asked what would have happened if the southern states had never seceded.  Their responses are priceless.  I guess I just find it funny that people who believe in limited government would identify so closely with the Confederacy.  They must not know their history.

By the way, just in case you are interested in why the state of Alabama seceded, you will not find it in this video:

WHEREAS, the election of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin to the offices of President and Vice-President of the United States of America, by a sectional party, avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions and to the peace and security of the people of the State of Alabama, preceded by many and dangerous infractions of the Constitution of the United States by many of the States and people of the northern section, is a political wrong of so insulting and menacing a character as to justify the people of the State of Alabama in the adoption of prompt and decided measures for their future peace and security; therefore,

Be it declared and ordained by the people of the State of Alabama in Convention assembled , That the State of Alabama now withdraws, and is hereby withdrawn from the Union known as “the United States of America”, and henceforth ceases to be one of said United States, and is, and of right ought to be, a Sovereign and Independent State.

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The North Carolina Museum of History’s Loose Cannon

I hope everyone who had a chance to listen to Earl Ijames’s presentation last night on “colored Confederates” had a good time.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if I will ever have the opportunity to attend one of his talks in person, but I have learned quite a bit about his research and interpretation from various news items in which he is quoted.  While I agreed to take part in a public forum with Mr. Ijames at an upcoming academic conference it does not look like it will happen.  To be honest, I am much more interested in having Mr. Ijames present his work in a peer reviewed journal so that it can be judged by the historical community as a whole.  We are unlikely to see that any time soon as well.  In the mean time I will continue to share what I consider to be some of the more outlandish claims that Mr. Ijames has made over the past few years in various public settings.

The following news item takes us back to a presentation given by Mr. Ijames in November 2008 as part of the Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum Legacy Lectures Series.   According to the article, Ijames said the following:

“There are people out there who have made their careers out of saying that there was no such thing as colored Confederate soldiers,” said Earl Ijames, curator at the North Carolina Museum of History. “As a historian, I want the records and facts to speak for themselves.”…. “As a state archivist and as a curator, I have had access to a lot of documents and records that proves a part of our history, on one hand is controversial and has been deliberately swept over, and on another hand, we still have vestiges in this state that are alive and kicking.”

Mr. Ijames needs to provide examples of who these people are that intentionally denied this history.  If this claim makes any sense at all Mr. Ijames should be able to cite at least one example for public scrutiny.  As bad as that is consider his claims about this history.

Confederate pensions were initially for soldiers who were injured in war and could not work. In 1927, the law was written to allow ditch diggers of color to receive pensions, but not Black Confederate soldiers. As the law evolved, pensions could be administered to soldiers who were too old to work, then to widows of soldiers from the Civil War. “I found just fewer than 200 colored Confederate pension applications, but many people did not know of the pension claim. There were many colored soldiers who served but were not documented on rosters.”

This claim about pension records has already been addressed here, here, and here.  Pension claims do not indicate service as a soldier.  Enough already!

Records that Ijames came across indicated that in 1862, a Confederate steamer was captured by the Union navy and 29 Black servants were taken as prisoners of war. “Now, I just find it hard to believe that there were 29 servants on a small steamer. I believe that some of those servants were actually soldiers but the Confederacy did not want the Union to know they had Blacks in the army,” Ijames said.

This is truly a remarkable claim for a historian to make.  So, the evidence that Ijames has available suggests that the men in question were slaves, but he believes they were soldiers because he believes the Confederacy was trying to keep their real identity a secret.  I would love to know what evidence Mr. Ijames has that would support such a claim.  This wouldn’t even be acceptable as an argument from one of my high school students.  Do I really need to debate someone who feels comfortable making this kind of claim?

As I stated before, I would have no problem if we were talking about a private individual; however, Mr. Ijames is an employee of a public institution.  The North Carolina Museum of History and Office of Archives and History have a responsibility here.  Are we in the historical community supposed to believe that Earl Ijames speaks for the museum and the rest of the public historical community in North Carolina?  Is this the level of scholarship that they expect from their employees and is this the level of scholarship that we would find in other historical areas?  I find it impossible to believe that I am the first historian to raise questions concerning Mr. Ijames’s “research.” No doubt, I am the first historian with a blog to do so and I will continue to make public these ridiculous claims until action is taken.  None of this would be necessary if after 15 years of research something was made public in the form of a peer reviewed essay.

Until then one must assume that the North Carolina Museum of History has a loose cannon on their hands.

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