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.