Those of you who have followed this blog and commentary about the myth of the black Confederate soldier are all too familiar with Earl Ijames, who is a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. Ijames claims to be an expert on what he refers to as “Confederates of Color.” It is an incredibly confusing and unhelpful reference. He is a popular speaker and beloved by Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Abbeville Institute. This past summer Ijames addressed the latter at their annual summer institute. [The video below was uploaded to YouTube on 12/21] I have little doubt that the audience enjoyed his presentation, but it should come as no surprise that it is an absolute mess. Continue reading →
It’s been a couple of years since we last heard from Earl Ijames. Back in 2011-2012 I devoted a good deal of attention to statements Mr. Ijames made in public about what he calls “Colored Confederates.” You can read what I have written here if interested. Today I learn that Mr. Ijames has produced a documentary video titled, “Earl Ijames Colored Confederates and US Colored Troops.”
According to the local newspaper in Kinston, North Carolina:
Drawing on more than 20 years research of primary and genealogical sources, Ijames, who is widely considered the subject matter expert on the African-American experience in the Confederacy, conveys the significance of Confederates of Color before the Emancipation Proclamation and after the creation of the United States Colored Troops. The eight-year project was recorded live and is based on actual events that led to the first monument in American history to honor Confederates of Color.
“Confederates of Color” is another one of those sloppy references that distorts more than it helps to clarify the role African Americans played in the Confederate war effort. That last sentence is a doozy. Confederate veterans and their descendants ‘honored’ African Americans on numerous occasions well into the twentieth century, but up until recently they did so as loyal slaves within the Lost Cause tradition.
Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the video for sale online.
I am going to feature this video with just a little commentary. Some of what Gates says here is just bizarre. Free blacks were “unmolested” by the Confederacy. Tell that to historian Clarence Mohr. In addition, according to Gates, the “dirtiest little secret in African-American history is that a surprisingly high percentage of the free Negros in the South owned slaves themselves.” Perhaps one of you can tell me what “high percentage” means in this context. Continue reading →
That’s a euphemism for slaves who were forced to work for the Confederate government during the war or who accompanied a master into the army. Of the ten men who will be recognized today in Union County North Carolina, nine were slaves. All received pensions after the war, but not for their service as soldiers. The marker reads: “In Memory of Union County’s Confederate Pensioners of Color,” and lists their names: Wilson Ashcraft, Ned Byrd, Wary Clyburn, Wyatt Cunningham, George Cureton, Hamp Cuthbertson, Mose Fraser, Lewis McGill, Aaron Perry and Jeff Sanders. I have the pensions for most of these men, including Clyburn’s whose file includes a letter confirming that his pension was not a recognition of service as a soldier – just in case there was any confusion.
It will be interesting to see whether event organizers, including speaker Earl Ijames, will mention that these men were indeed slaves. It is nice to see that at least one newspaper includes a reference to these men as slaves. That inconvenient fact is almost always ignored, but without it the history of these men makes absolutely no sense.
As I’ve said before, there is nothing wrong with remembering these men, but Confederate slaves ought to be recognized forsurviving the Confederacy.
The date has been set. On December 8, Union County, North Carolina will dedicate a privately-funded marker on the Old County Courthouse honoring area slaves who performed various functions for the Confederate army. This has been a long time coming and many of you have followed this story here at Civil War Memory. Despite the reference to slaves in this article, the reference to these men as “Confederate Pensioners” does not bode well for an event that supposedly intends to recognize the role and place of slavesin the Confederate war effort. Both Wary (Weary) Clyburn and Aaron Perry are included in the list of men to be honored and have been discussed on this site at length.
As for the article itself, I would love for someone to explain this sentence to me.
While it’s impossible to know how many of the men willingly followed their masters into warand how many were forced, supporters of the plan called it an appropriate, if overdue, recognition of their service.
What does it mean to willingly follow your master to do anything?
Costumed Civil War re-enactors, national and state leaders of the SCV, and a color guard also will be on hand.
Will that include reenactors, who will play the role of camp servants? Will the audience get a glimpse into the world of slaves, who accompanied their masters to war or are we going to get the black reenactor in Confederate uniform routine? Will those attending and the many more who will read the marker later understand that we are talking aboutslaves?
As I’ve said all along, these men deserve to be recognized, but we should do so with a critical eye toward getting the history right rather than distorting it for our own self-serving reasons. I look forward to having my fears proven wrong. Oh, and Earl Ijames will deliver the keynote address.
As I wait for my flight back to Boston I wanted to share a little bit about my experience this weekend in Richmond at the ASALH. First and foremost, I was self conscious throughout of the fact that for the first time I was in the racial minority at an academic conference. A good friend of mine jokingly remarked, “Bottom rail on top”. We shared a good laugh over it, but it left me with questions about what it must be like for African Americans, who are usually in the minority at most academic conferences focused on American and Southern history.
As I mentioned in the last post, the range of participants also adds a unique quality to this gathering. I heard talks from academics, a USCT reenactor, amateur historians, genealogists, and public historians. The quality of the presentations definitely covered a wide spectrum, but that was far outweighed by the enthusiasm by both the presenters as well as the audience. I would also say that the presentations leaned heavily toward the narrative as opposed to analysis. The discussions were incredibly animated. There was a buzz in the audience that I have not experienced before. It was so nice to engage in conversation with people with so many interests and backgrounds. I was especially struck by the emphasis on the recording of names. No doubt, some of this comes back to the genealogist presence, but I suspect that the interest is much broader within the African American community to record names that in many cases can only be uncovered through a great deal of archival work.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about what the identification of some African Americans tells us about the evolution of Civil War Memory and while I don’t have any firm answers it might be worth posting for further discussion. Perhaps the identification with this narrative by some African Americans can be seen as evidence that black Americans have a deep need to connect with a Southern past. That should come as no surprise given the central role that they have played in its formation from the very beginning. At the same time that role has been decidedly influenced at different points in history by white Americans to buttress their own racial, cultural, and political agenda. One need look no further than the pervasiveness of an ideology of paternalism (in the context of slavery) during the antebellum period, the advent of the Lost Cause following the Civil War, and more recently a conscious effort to support white political control in the 1950s and 60s through the control of history textbooks.
For many African Americans it is the Civil Rights Movement that looms large as a place to find heroic stories, larger-than-life personalities, and even narratives of racial reconciliation. The Civil War, on the other hand, has been lost. As I’ve learned over the years many African American families pushed their history of slavery away either because it was too painful or the narrative had been reduced to one of degradation and misery. The past few decades has witnessed a dramatic shift in the way that slavery is interpreted as well as the reemergence of African American participation in the war itself – seen most clearly in the 1989 release of “Glory.” The movie’s success in its appeal to a mainstream white audience ought to be seen as an important milestone in the evolution of popular memory of the war that has come to acknowledge the central role of slavery and emancipation in the overall conflict. Continue reading →