Debating Earl Ijames

Earlier today fellow blogger and historian, Brooks Simpson, left a comment offering to host a debate between myself and Earl Ijames at Civil Warriors.

Sounds to me as if Earl Ijames has challenged Kevin Levin to a duel, so to speak.

Now, by the code duello, Mr. Levin has choice of weapons. I assume he’d rather conduct the contest on the written page/screen/blog, where all of us can see the result, not some hand-picked venue chosen by Mr. Ijames. And I think that’s appropriate. I’m perfectly willing to offer Civil Warriors as a field of honor where this can happen, so that historians can judge the result.

So, Mr. Ijames, it’s up to you. Are you going to make your case? Are you willing to conduct yourself according to the rules of scholarship?  Remember what you said, Mr. Ijames: ” I’ll re-iterate that offer to you to put your money where your loose lips leak erroneous information…. If you don’t show, then we can conclude that you’re not as serious of a student of history as you misrepresent yourself to be.”  I’d hate to see those words come back to haunt you. But it’s now a matter of public record. It’s up to you whether you’ll be as good as your word.

I think this is a great idea and I am more than happy to participate.  It seems to me that the best way to proceed is for Mr. Ijames to write up a short essay (endnotes/sources included) on Weary Clyburn and/or John Venable.  Let’s nail down the interpretation first and steer clear of broad generalizations about numbers and other ancillary concerns.  It would be very helpful to me and the rest of us if we can just focus on one or two individuals.  In fact, Mr. Ijames could do us all a favor by demonstrating how someone in his position goes about researching and constructing a profile for a “Colored Confederate”.  I know I would greatly appreciate it.

Well, Mr. Ijames, the ball is in your court.

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Mr. Ijames, Was Weary Clyburn a Soldier or a Slave?

One of the reasons why it is important for serious historians to publish in peer-reviewed journals is that it provides the community with stable reference points.  Scholarly publications are intended to add to our knowledge of the past by providing rich interpretation along with supporting documents that can be verified.  In this setting interpretation can be challenged and revised if necessary.  I find it troubling that in 15 years Mr. Ijames has yet to publish, but still considers himself to be an expert on the subject of “Colored Confederates” and is considered to be an expert by various constituencies.  No doubt, Mr. Ijames is aware that free and enslaved blacks functioned in various capacities in the Confederate army, but what I am interested in are his vague claims about those that supposedly served as soldiers.  His claims in various forums, including this one, are impossible to pin down which raises more questions than answers.  Consider his public statements about Weary Clyburn, who was the subject of a series of posts I did in 2008.  The SCV honored Clyburn with a headstone that designated him as a soldier in the Confederate army.  Mr. Ijames took part in the SCV’s public and well publicized ceremony for Clyburn, which you can see in this short video clip:

It can be safely assumed that Ijames’s comments as well as his participation in this event implies that he believes Clyburn served as a soldier.  Once he discovered my posts on the subject, along with commentary about his participation in the event, Ijames offered the following comment:

The term is “Colored Confederate”. I have always maintained that Weary Clyburn was ENSLAVED! He wasn’t even counted in the census, much less in a Confederate Regiment! You discount what he actually did, while hiding behind your rambling attacks on me!

So, we go from taking part in an event that commemorated Clyburn as a soldier in Co. E, 12th S.C. Volunteers to acknowledging that he was a slave.  Finally, in yesterday’s response to my open letter, Ijames said the following:

What’s more, you should be ashamed at the dishonor and discredit that you (et als) intend for Weary Clyburn, Co. E, 12th S.C. Volunteers, his daughter, and family.  You might be hearing from their lawyer.

What could this possibly mean other than to imply that I am “dishonoring” a soldier?  I should point out that there is nothing dishonorable about being a slave.  It is their stories that give continued meaning to our lives and a nation that strives towards freedom and equality.  There is also nothing dishonorable about speaking out when those in the historical community engage the past with such reckless abandon.

Mr. Ijames and a few others are wondering why I don’t accept his invitation to debate in some public forum.  As I’ve already pointed out the idea itself is absurd, but how can I debate someone who doesn’t seem to have the basic facts of his own story straight?

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Earl Ijames Responds

I do not make it a practice of posting emails on this site, but given the circumstances I feel this is justified.  Earlier today Earl Ijames responded to my request for copies of his public presentation on black Confederates, all of which are part of the public record.  Mr. Ijames responded with his professional email address, which makes it subject to third party review.  I am not surprised that he refused my request, but I was disappointed by his tone and personal insults.  Ijames is an employee of the North Carolina Museum of History, which is part of the Division of State History Museums, Office of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources, a state agency.  That makes him a public servant.  It goes without saying that the following email reflects poorly on both the North Carolina Museum of History and Office of Archives and History.  Regardless of Mr. Ijames’s personal feelings, I have every right to question and comment on information shared on publicly accessible websites.  Today he had a chance to respond and put to rest a number of questions that have been raised about his research. He chose not to.

Dear Kevin,

Thank you for your request.

However, please don’t intimate as if we’re strangers.

You obviously assume yet another ignorant and incorrect posture by inferring that my research was done while serving as an Archivist, and not just an employee “who only pulls records” as you conveniently misrepresent in your blog.  What’s more, I have shared with you already the little research that was done while on state time, that is confirming the service of Pvt. John Venable (Colored), Co. H, 21st Regt. N.C.S.T., whom you and unnamed associates continue to dishonor.  Yet, you bumble and stumble with Venable trying to explain away his courage and service.  You definitely couldn’t handle the weight and the truth of the depth and breadth of service of the Colored Confederates of our great State.

As for my private research supported on my on dime in my “copious” spare time… “Sir, You Will Get No Troops from North Carolina!”

On the other hand, I have offered to you on numerous occasions to debate any time any where, again on my dime.  I’ll re-iterate that offer to you to put your money where your loose lips leak erroneous information.  Please come to the Savannah State University and the Telfair Museum in that fine southern city next week for real presentation “Colored Confederates and United States Colored Troops” as part of their Annual Black History Month celebrations.  Or if you want to save gas, then please visit the Chatham County (of NC) Historical Society on the last Sunday of Black History Month for a similar program with a Chatham County, NC flair.  At either event, you’ll be my special guest, seated front and center.

If you don’t show, then we can conclude that you’re not as serious of a student of history as you misrepresent yourself to be.  And therefore, I must admonish you to discontinue capitalizing on my name and promoting your website business by defamation.

The offer still stands, or you can continue to cowardly post erroneous and slanderous information while you suffer from cabin fever in the frozen tundra of your “research”.

What’s more, you should be ashamed at the dishonor and discredit that you (et als) intend for Weary Clyburn, Co. E, 12th S.C. Volunteers, his daughter, and family.  You might be hearing from their lawyer.

You must be also warned that if you continue the rants, then you risk exposing yourself as a buffoon.

Once you dig out of your blizzard, please feel free to make an appointment with me at the North Carolina Museum of History.  Many people travel from states farther than northern Virginia to share in our history that’s been my life’s work.  Just the last fifteen years on my resume is more than you’ll accomplish over the course of your career!  I just hope that you haven’t damaged too many of those captive classrooms with students in your politically correct curriculum.

I hope to see you soon.  Thank you again.

Sincerely,

=Earl

22 comments

An Open Letter To Earl Ijames

Update: Well, it doesn’t look like Mr. Ijames is willing to share his presentation with me.  He did, however, take the time to write me a lengthy letter in which he invited me to take part in one of his future presentations.  That’s very kind of him.  According to Mr. Ijames he has already shared all of the information he has on “Private Venable”, which is sufficient to accuse me, along with my “unnamed associates”, of “dishonoring” his memory.  I assume by “unnamed associates” he means his former colleagues at the NCDAH.  Unfortunately, it comes down to is his claim that the vast majority of the research for this presentation was done on his own personal time.  What is even more confusing is a string of attached emails between Ijames and a representative of UNC-TV that was included in his personal email to me.  Apparently, the two are under some mistaken belief that I based these posts on a recent interview with Ijames.  While I came across it on one of my searches I didn’t view it.  Finally, in addition to dishonoring the memory of Venable I am also being accused of dishonoring the memory of Weary Clyburn as well as his descendants.  Apparently, I may even be hearing from their lawyer.  No doubt I will be charged with doing history.  My next step will be to send a letter to the director of the NCDAH along with an attached copy of Ijames’s response to my request  I understand Ijames’s frustration.  He admitted in one of the emails that a Google search of his name lists this blog at the top of the list.  That said, this is no way for a public servant to respond to a request from the general public.  Well, that’s the latest. :D

To: Earl Ijames

cc: Dr. Jeffrey J. Crow [Deputy Secretary, North Carolina Office of Archives and History]

Subject: Black Confederates

Dear Mr. Ijames,

I am a high school history teacher and historian who specializes in Civil War history. My current research project focuses on the history of black soldiers in the Civil War.  I understand that over the past few years you have done extensive research on the service of black soldiers in the Confederate army and that you have presented your findings to the general public on numerous occasions.  Unfortunately, due to my location I am unable to attend these presentations.  However, I would like to request that you send me your Powerpoint presentation and/or copies of materials that have been used in your public programs.  I understand that your research was done while an employee at the North Carolina Department of Archives and History and that the requested items are part of the public record.  Thank you very much for your time and I look forward to reviewing your research.

Sincerely,

Kevin M. Levin
Instructor of History and Department Chair
St. Anne’s – Belfield School
Charlottesville, Virginia

10 comments

Earl Ijames Is At It Again

Looks like Earl Ijames is taking his “black Confederate” roadshow out once again.  We first met Mr. Ijames, who works as a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, in the summer of 2008 in a series of posts I did on Weary Clyburn [and here].  In a comment contained in the second link Mr. Ijames introduced us to Private John Venable, who he believed served in Co. H, 21st NCST.  I assumed this was one of his ironclad examples given Mr. Ijames’s insistence that I acknowledge his findings.  With some help from archivists at the North Carolina Department of Archives and History it didn’t take long for us to poke a sufficient number of holes in Ijames’s interpretation of the documents related to Venable.  Unfortunately, Mr. Ijames never responded to the findings and interpretation of his colleagues.

Well, it looks like none of this is enough to prevent Mr. Ijames from presenting his “findings” to the general public.  I wonder if he is going to reference “Pvt.” John Venable in his presentation to the Chatham County Historical Association on February 28:

Many people find it hard to believe that any African American, slave or free, would have willingly served on the side of the Confederacy in the American Civil War. But Earl Ijames, a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, says that many did just that, and that their reasons for fighting were as varied and complex as those of white soldiers. These black soldiers, as well as the blacks who served the Union cause, will be the topic of Ijames’ presentation. Whatever their reasons for serving, Ijames says, these men deserve to be recognized for their valor. “It’s a miscarriage of justice for this many people to be just blotted out of history,” he believes. Ijames has spent some 15 years studying this interesting and controversial topic.

[Update] Here is a description of the presentation on the Chatham website:

Many people find it hard to believe that any African American, slave or free, would have willingly served on the side of the Confederacy in the American Civil War. But Earl Ijames, a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, says that hundreds did just that, and that their reasons for fighting were as varied and complex as those of white soldiers. These black soldiers, as well as the blacks who served the Union cause, will be the subject of Mr. Ijames’ talk on Sunday, February 28.

“The historically accurate term for the African Americans in the service of the Southern cause is ‘colored Confederates,'” Ijames says, and thousands of them went to war from Southern states, including North Carolina. Some were slaves sent in place of their masters, or were forced or volunteered to serve alongside them. Others were free blacks who offered their services. Whatever their reasons for serving, Ijames says, these men deserve to be recognized for their valor. “It’s a miscarriage of justice for this many people to be just blotted out of history,” he believes.

Ijames has spent some 15 years studying this interesting and controversial topic.  He will present some examples of people who served and discuss the historical evidence available to document them.  He will invite questions following the presentation.

The public is invited to attend the program to learn more about this fascinating and often ignored subject.

It’s difficult to believe that “many” African Americans served in the Confederate army given that the government expressly forbid it until close to the end of the war.  Given that fact, I would love to know what evidence Mr. Ijames has that would support his claim that the “service” of African Americans in the Confederate army has been “blotted out” of history.  I don’t expect much from organizations like the Sons of Confederate Veterans on this topic, but don’t people who are in positions like Mr. Ijames have a responsibility to be competent purveyors of the past?  Finally, I find it hilarious that Mr. Ijames would imply a conspiracy surrounding this subject and yet, as far as I can tell, in fifteen years he has never published his findings in a peer-reviewed journal.

41 comments