Ann DeWitt Still Doesn’t Get It

Update: Check out Andy Hall’s thoughtful analysis of the DeWitt-Weeks book over at Dead Confederates.

I am a high school history teacher, who spends a great deal of time reviewing classroom materials for their historical merit.  For what it’s worth my judgments are based on a solid education and years of reading the best in historical scholarship on the history of slavery, the South, and the American Civil War.  I point this out given Ann DeWitt’s latest response [scroll down] to my continued postings on her flawed historical fiction for children, titled, Entangled in Freedom:

Imagine writing a novel for young adults which (1) espouses the sanctity of marriage, (2) does not contain profanity, (3) promotes earning ones way in America, (4) advocates true friendship, (5) demonstrates the positive progression of America  over the last 150 years, and (6) highlights the strength of the family unit; yet, the novel is dubbed “nonsense”  by a recognized Virginia Civil War journalist and historian.

The above six principles the family narratives of Ann DeWitt.  I have no 19th century written documentation of these six family values because they were passed down to me verbally by my ancestors. I do not secretly hide them but proudly share them with the world.   As parents and/or readers, would you ban such a book from the shelves of bookstores, civil war & history museums, and libraries across America?  Google key words:  entangled in freedom.  Witness a literary ban about the subject of Black Confederate Soldiers happening right before our eyes—in the open—on the internet.

Let’s be clear that no one is trying to “ban” Ms. Dewitt’s and Mr. Weeks’s book.  I am simply using this blog to point out the shortcomings of this children’s book.  Whatever the virtues of this book may be, it does not trump the fact that neither author has any understanding of the history of slavery, race relations, and the role of African Americans in the Confederate army.  The bibliography in this book clearly reflects a lack of serious research into their subject.  I would go as far as to suggest that this book is dangerous and irresponsible and if this blog can help in preventing impressionable young minds from being exposed to it, so be it.

Entangled in Nonsense, Fantasy, and Really Bad History

Here is another selection from Ann DeWitt’s and Kevin Week’s Entangled in Freedom, which tells the story of a black Confederate soldier by the name of Isaac.  In this scene Isaac and his master, Abraham Green, have just arrived at the camp of the 42nd Regiment Georgia Volunteers.  The soldiers in camp are surprised to see a black man, but decide to make him their chaplain after they learn that Isaac has memorized the Bible.  But wait, it gets better.  This scene takes place as an officer in the 42nd explains to the men why Isaac and Abraham have both been given permission to stay in the officer’s quarters.

“You are putting me in a very strange predicament,” said Sergeant Major Hart.  Facing the crowd Sergeant Major Hart said, “Soldiers, let me introduce to you Sergeant Major Abraham Green and Chaplain Isaac who hail from Oxford, Georgia.  Because we are tight on space here at this training camp, I have invited both to stay in the officer’s quarters.”

“Permission to speak Sergeant Major,” said a First Sergeant at the front of the crowd.”  I am First Sergeant Russell.  This is the war of the Confederate States of America.  Only one-tenth of the people in the state own slaves…and for the most part that’s the planters.  As for the men in my tent, we don’t own any slaves.  Have you read the latest Harper’s Weekly newspaper?” he asked pulling out a torn sheet.

“What does an article have to do with where Sergeant Major Green and Isaac sleep?”

“Let me read to you an article from Harper’s Weekly newspaper.”  Lifting the newspaper clipping and shouting to the top of his authoritative voice for the seventy-six men of the 42nd Regiment Georgia Volunteers Company E to hear, he said, “The correspondent of the New York Herald, in one of its latest numbers, reports that the rebels had a regiment of mounted black men armed with sabers at Manassas, and that some five hundred Union prisoners taken at Bull Run were escorted to their filthy prison by a regiment of black men.”

The 42nd Regiment Georgia Volunteers Company E cheered.  Master Green winked at me and smiled.  Sergeant Major Hart asked, “What’s your point?

First Sergeant Russell said, “If these black rebels can fight for the honor of the Confederacy, I don’t see why our chaplain can’t be living amongst the soldiers.  After the prayer, we in Company E took a vote, we want Chaplain Isaac to be assigned to our company and be assigned to my tent.”

Listening to this news was baffling to me.  Learning from the First Sergeant, I asked, “Permission to speak, sir.”  Yes, Chaplain Isaac.”  Did I just hear that there are black rebels riding horses for the Confederacy?”

“Well, Harper’s Weekly states that the New York Herald newspaper gave that report.”

“Did I also hear that a regiment of black rebels took 500 Union soldiers to a Confederate prison?

“I am with you, Chaplain Isaac.  I heard the same thing.”

Master Green said, “This can’t be true.  Jeff Davis has not given the order for black soldiers to fight in the Confederacy.”

Sergeant Major Hart said, “Sounds like your courthouse and other courthouses in the south are enlisting black rebels just the same.  Look at this.  The enlistment on this report just says Isaac Green.  No one would ever know from this paper that Isaac is a black rebel.”

Master Green said, “I’ll be.  I agreed for Isaac to be a chaplain because I didn’t think he could fight.  Isaac is the best rider in Newton County.  If you boys want to win this war, I suggest that Isaac be assigned to the mounted cavalry because we need skilled riders to travel the rugged terrains at Cumberland Gap.”

First Sergeant Russell added, “Yeah, but we can’t force Chaplain Isaac to fight because look at this.”  The soldier pulled out another clipping from Harper’s Weekly.  “This shows a picture of a Confederate captain pointing a gun and making two slaves load a cannon.”

Master Green said, “That’s propaganda.  No one wants to believe that there are some areas in the south w[h]ere whites and blacks get along fine.  I’m not saying it’s perfect for Isaac.  I am saying that loyalty delivers a great prize.”

First Sergeant Russell said, “Regardless, in the 42nd Regiment, we have to work together, and every man has to want to fight in this battle.  What do you say Chaplain Isaac?” (pp. 46-47)

Yes, a truly remarkable and disturbing excerpt.  Notice that DeWitt and Weeks offer their own explanation as to how black men ended up as enlisted soldiers in the Confederate army.  First, local courthouses were clearly formally enlisting them all over the South without any knowledge on the part of the Confederate government.  More importantly, they can always point out that lack of any racial identification on the enlistment papers if asked to provide evidence for the presence of black soldiers.

It’s pretty clear to me after reading the first 50 pages of this book that DeWitt and Weeks are interested in using this story and their limited understanding of the broader history of this subject to foster reconciliation between the races.  If it can be shown that the most divisive period in America’s racial past  included a great deal of interracial cooperation than perhaps we can do so today.  Reconciliation and understanding between the races is certainly a worthy goal, but you can’t get there by distorting the past and that is all they are doing in this book.

Gather Around Children and Let Me Tell You a Story

One of the nice things about Mr. Weeks’s decision to lodge a complaint about me with my school is that I ended up with an advanced copy of Entangled in Freedom.  I am trying to make my way through it, but it has been incredibly difficult.  It is much worse than I originally thought.  In fact, the book is downright dangerous and has no place in a classroom that is dedicated to presenting young children with an accurate view of the past.  Rather than try to put together a formal review, I’ve decided to share passages from the book.  This first one takes place early on the book as Isaac is preparing to leave with his master (Abraham Green) for the war.  In this scene Isaac is talking with an elderly white woman, Mrs. Jessica Fair, about the war and his place within it.  The setting is 1862 and Isaac is the narrator:

So, I asked Mrs. Fair, “What advice do you have for me?  I don’t want any trouble.”

“That’s a good question.  Newton County [Georgia] has been training you for this day Isaac all your life.  We in the county knew that slavery wasn’t going to last always.  I want you to come back a leader.  Help us rebuild this community.  Leaders don’t wait until trouble comes; they strategize for years about how to withstand the worst of circumstances.”  She looked at me to see if I understood what she was saying…. “When President Abraham Lincoln heard firsthand the intelligent words of Frederick Douglass, Lincoln realized that his world had already changed.  We in the Deep South knew all the time that black people are cut from the same board of cloth as whites.  That’s why Sally has been teaching all of your family to read and write, and why Abraham takes you to all of his business meetings.  He has been training you how to conduct yourself.  However; there are people from both the north and the south who still want to keep the slaves oppressed.”

Master Green interrupted and said, “I told Isaac.  It’s because of the laws in the state of Georgia.  That’s why I can’t set you free or I will go to jail…. [Mrs. Fair] “You make us proud in the war.  Abraham might be a farmer.  I believe in my heart of hearts that you will be a rich planter one day.  You remember this old lady.” [pp. 27-29]

I can only imagine what I am in for as Isaac and his master go off to war together.  The list of historical sources used for the book are included at the end and they are pretty much all online references.  They include Kelly Barrow’s books, a video of Edward Smith discussing black Confederates, a Son of the South site as well as an SCV web page titled, “Black History Month: Black Confederate Heritage.”  Surprisingly, they also include a reference to one of my posts on the upcoming Patrick Cleburne movie.  I must assume that their bibliography reflects their understanding of the history of slavery, race relations and the Civil War itself and if this is the case these two authors understand very, very little.

I hope I won’t have to field additional complaints about how I’ve handled this situation.  As far as I am concerned, to do so implies agreement with the historical basis of this story.  Stay tuned for future installments.

Entangled in Nonsense

Imagine my surprise yesterday when the headmaster of my school handed me an advanced copy of Kevin Weeks’s and Ann Dewitt’s new book, Entangled in Freedom.  Apparently, Mr. Weeks decided to send a copy to my school along with a letter claiming that I had “slandered my literary work without conducting a formal book review.”  You may remember my recent post in which I offer a few thoughts about the book’s description.  This was not meant as a formal review in any sense, though a number of people expressed their concern that I should have waited until I read the book.  What is interesting, however, is the nature of Mr. Weeks’s overall complaint against me.  In addition to the letter he included my school’s statement of its core values, which reflects a commitment to diversity.  Apparently, my comments about the book reflects my lack of understanding of diversity as seen in this particular story about black Confederates.  Even more interesting is the following accusation:

Does St. Anne’s – Belfield School concur with Mr. Levin that African-American history, regardless of how controversial, should be removed from historical museums and the voices of African-Americans, as mine, be silenced?

I simply have no idea how to respond to such an accusation.  No one is trying to silence anyone and this has nothing to do with a lack of commitment to diversity.  What it has to do with is pointing out history and historical fiction that is fundamentally flawed based on the historical record.  Now that I have a copy of the book I can take a closer look at the content of the story.  Last night I tried to sit down to read the first few pages and somehow I managed to finish the first ten pages.  It’s much worse than I thought.  I understand that historical fiction tends to play looser with the historical record and I understand that children’s books must operate on a simpler conceptual level, but this is ridiculous.  If I somehow find that I can make it through, I will give the book a formal review.

Finally, I still don’t understand why my school is being contacted about this issue.  As I recently stated, this site has no formal connection with the workplace.

Ann DeWitt Is At It Again

It just continues to get more and more bizarre with each passing week.  Ann DeWitt promised to continue to develop her Black Confederate Soldiers website and she does not disappoint.  She recently added a section on the pension records of Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee.   Nowhere does she inform her reader that these pensions were given to former slaves – a fact obscured by the black individual holding a Confederate flag.  But wait, it gets much better.  Check out DeWitt’s description of body servants:

So what is the definition of a body servant?  A body servant is a gentleman’s gentleman.  These African-American men, whether freedmen or slaves, dedicated their lives to the service of men who in some form or fashion shaped the United States of America.  In 21st century vernacular the role is analogous to a position known as an executive assistant—a position today that requires a college Bachelors Degree or equivalent level experience.  Ask any salesman. You cannot secure an appointment with a senior executive without getting approval from his or her  executive assistant.

I deplore slavery. However, my point is that these body servants did break ground in establishing the importance of the role in 21st century context.  Body servants were trusted advisers and confidants to Confederate Generals such as Robert E. Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and Nathan Bedford Forrest to name a few.  As an example, capitalist Nathan Bedford Forrest was the most revered as well as loathed Confederate General because Nathan Bedford Forrest in the end was respected by both black and white southern men who served under his leadership.  Look at the official Confederate Tennessee Pension records.  Forrest even had an “escort cavalry,” which in today’s terms we call an entourage.  Even President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, travels with a staff of 500 people.

Here is DeWitt’s page on Alabama’s pension records:

The African-Americans, who served during the American Civil War from Alabama, served as drummers, musicians, laborers, carpenters and teamsters to name a few.  Alabama Department of Archives & History provides an Online Index with links to original pension applications.  Please note that the Alabama Department of Archives & History does not document if these African-Americans fought for the Union or the Confederate States Army. Some southerners who served in the United States Army continued to fight for the Union. Which begs the question, did some slaves go to war with their southern masters to fight for the Union?

I admit that I had a long day today, but can someone explain what DeWitt is asking in these final two sentences? I am assuming that the men listed on this page functioned as servants to soldiers in the Confederate army.

If that wasn’t enough, H.K. Edgerton is referred to as a “Human Rights Defender.” And, finally we have this creative interpretation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.  Keep in mind that DeWitt intends this to be an educational site for teachers and students.  O.K. that’s enough crazy for one day.