You can imagine my surprise when I returned from my trip to Shepherd University to find an email from Prof. Gregory Pfitzer of Skidmore College. Prof. Pfitzer is currently teaching an American Studies course that focuses on Civil War Memory and has been using this blog as a resource. Students are focusing specifically on a series of posts that I did on the Gary Casteel statue of Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber that is currently located at Beauvoir. Prof. Pfitzer thought it might be a good idea for his students to engage me on one of the posts, which I was more than happy to do. You can follow the discussion here. I am quite impressed with their enthusiasm as well as their ideas. Check it out.
The story of Silas Chandler is one of the most popular black Confederate stories out there on the Web. You can find it featured on the website of the 37th Texas, the Petersburg Express, on blogs, and you can even purchase a t-shirt of Silas and Andrew at Dixie Outfitters. A few weeks ago the famous image of “the Chander Brothers” was featured on Antiques Roadshow and not surprising my post on it received a great deal of attention. There is no evidence that Silas served in Confederate ranks, though that apparently did not prevent the United Daughters of the Confederacy from decorating his grave with an Iron Cross and Confederate battle flag. Yesterday a descendant of Silas Chandler left the following comment on the blog:
I am the Great Granddaughter of Silas Chandler. The lies being told about Silas fighting in the confederate army keep growing. And that is what they are “LIES”. The majority of the decendents of Silas are also disgusted about all of the lies told about our ancester. Silas was a slave, and did what he had to do in order to survive. I am a Black Chandler who grew up in West Point, Mississippi where it was unheard of to even look at or even speak to a white Chandler. I have a letter signed by the majority of the decendents of Silas demanding the Iron Cross and Confederate flag be removed from Silas’ grave. Signing this letter is the Granddaughter of Silas who is 107 years old and still lives in Long Island, New York. I grew up with my Grandfather, who was the son of Silas. He told us all about Silas and how he saved his money and hid it in the barn and bought his freedom. He also bought the land where he built his house. That record is in the Clay County court house as of this day.
I know many of you out there are looking forward to a day/week without a blog post about Earl Ijames. Many of you are perhaps disappointed with the way I’ve gone about all of this. There is plenty of room to disagree. I want to state up front that my goal has never been to attack Mr. Ijames’s personal character. I have no doubt that Mr. Ijames is fully qualified in his role as an archivist and curator at the North Carolina Museum of History. In fact, I’ve seen his name mentioned a number of times in the acknowledgments section of books focused on North Carolina history. I wish Mr. Ijames nothing but continued success in this area of his career and have no doubt that he will continue to aid scholars and the general public in the goal of better understanding various aspects of North Carolina history.
What I have done is expend a great deal of energy and time challenging Mr. Ijames on what I believe to be fundamentally flawed claims concerning the roles of black southerners during the Civil War, particularly in the Confederate armies. It is not just some of the more outrageous claims made by Mr. Ijames that trouble me, it is the belief that this entire debate is little more than an extension of a deeply-embedded and racist narrative thread that continues to portray slaves as obedient and loyal and works to distance slavery from the Civil War. This particular issue is complex and we desperately need trained scholars to explore it. Mr. Ijames is clearly not that individual. On the eve of the Civil War Sesquicentennial this is something that is too important for an educator, historian and blogger to ignore. I claim no expertise beyond the research that I’ve carried out on a closely related subject as well as my understanding of the relevant historiography. As I have judged Earl Ijames’s research so must my own arguments be judged. That is how this process works. The difference as I see it is that I have taken the extra step to have my research and writing publicly scrutinized while Mr. Ijames has not.
As to why I’ve singled out Mr. Ijames it should be crystal clear. I expect this kind of behavior from the likes of H.K. Edgerton or the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy. Both groups have a long history and vested interest in manipulating the past in a way that fits with their preferred view of the antebellum South, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. Yes, I comment on them from time to time, but I honestly do not get worked up about it. On the other hand Mr. Ijames works for a state agency whose stated goal is to preserve and interpret the history of North Carolina for the public. It’s a worthy goal and one that they clearly take seriously. For that reason alone Mr. Ijames must be held to the highest standards of scholarship. I am not a public historian so I am unfamiliar with the protocol for handling these types of cases in institutions such as museums and archives. I would hope that like colleges and universities they are organized in a way that allows for the widest latitude in critical thinking and intellectual creativity. As I stated above Mr. Ijames is no doubt a valuable employee within the Office of Archives and History, but his public presentations, regardless of whether they are sanctioned by his employer deserve to be challenged. The only thing that I expect from his employer is the acknowledgment that his response to my initial request for his presentation was inappropriate. I still find it curious that I have not been contacted. [On the question of institutional responsibility and academic freedom I highly recommend Brooks Simpson's recent post over at Civil Warriors.]
So, what should the consequences be for Mr. Ijames’s claims of expertise in this particular field? That’s not up to me to decide, but for the broader public. I would hope that such behavior prevents Mr. Ijames from being considered for certain promotions within the museum and broader institutional system. As I said before I find it hard to believe that I am the first person to raise these concerns. Clearly, a seasoned scholar like Dr. Jeffrey J. Crow must be aware of the shortcomings of Mr. Ijames’s research in this area. In addition, I would hope that respectable institutions decide not to invite Mr. Ijames to speak on this particular issue, especially as we approach the sesquicentennial.
Finally, I hope I’ve done my part in all of this. I make no apologies for utilizing this format to raise questions and to try to promote the kind of discourse, and hopefully the further research, that this subject so dearly deserves and desperately needs. Yes, certain individuals and groups will ignore my commentary regarding Mr. Ijames, but that pales in comparison with the number of people who will be introduced to him through this site. I’ve done everything I can to raise specific questions about statements made on this blog and in his public presentations. Now we have his own words in a complete presentation on the subject for all interested parties to consider. [see here and here for audio] I have to say that given Mr. Ijames’s challenge/invitation to meet him in a public setting to discuss this issue I am incredibly disappointed by the quality of his presentation. What else can I say other than that I truly expected more than the same tired stories and almost complete lack of analysis that can be found on most websites. But that is neither here nor there, it is up to you to decide. If this is your idea of good history than so be it. It’s not mine.
No doubt, you will see Mr. Ijames mentioned in a future posts, but for now I think we’ve all had enough.
Here is the audio recording of Earl Ijames’s recent talk in Savannah. The sound quality is pretty good, though there are a few moments where it is difficult to hear what he is saying. I recommend listening with earphones. The recording begins with an account of “Colored Confederates” in the OR. Unfortunately, the recording missed the very beginning of the talk. During the gap in the tape, Ijames introduced himself and talked about the beginning of the Civil War and apparently confused the 13th Amendment with the Crittenden Compromise.
Well, you decide for yourself.
You may also be interested in this short presentation on “Colored Confederates in Savannah” by Educator and Preservationist Hugh Stiles Golson. I have not yet had the chance to listen to it.
Note: Both presentations have been posted for educational purposes only.
Fellow blogger and NPS Ranger John Hoptak was kind enough to pass this image along from a May 1862 issue of Harpers Weekly. I haven’t seen this particular image in quite some time and not surprisingly you won’t find it on any of those black Confederate websites. It depicts a scene allegedly witnessed by a Union officer through his fieldglass. In it, you can see the Confederate officer forcing his slaves to the front. According to this Union witness, both were ultimately killed.
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.”
North Carolina Troops Service Record, dated May 24, 1864. Private Reed noted as a “free negro.”
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).
A black man from Bertie County, NC that claimed in a 1928 pension application to serving as an “office boy” for a Confederate surgeon.
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).
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.
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.
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.