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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17 comments… add one
  • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 24, 2010 @ 17:01
  • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 16, 2010 @ 17:57

    “At the same time, both Mr. Simpson and Levin have ignored or declined to have a public discourse on this matter.” So says “anonymous” of Richard williams's blog.

    Hmm. How my offer to host a discussion which has been accepted by one of the participants can be construed as declining to have such “public discourse” is something someone else will have to explain, as no one has asked me to discourse on anything in this matter.

    How bizarre … but, as we may see, how useful. 🙂

    • Kevin Levin Feb 16, 2010 @ 18:07

      That kind of comment can only appear on RW's blog. What I find absolutely hilarious is that it takes some of my regular readers to bring about a constructive discussion on his site. I just can't bring myself to respond to a “RebelRaider”, “JacksonianLawyer”, “WereWolfinExile” or “BorderRuffian”. 😀

  • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 16, 2010 @ 5:03

    Invitation posted on Civil Warriors:

  • margaretdblough Feb 16, 2010 @ 0:39

    Brooks Simpson- (there was no reply button to your response to me)-I understand that your interpretation of the First Amendment is the same as mine. You strike me as an enthusiastic participant in the free marketplace of ideas. I wish there were more of Mr. Ijames' beliefs who were willing to engage in the kind of debate that you outline. In that kind of debate, I find that you can learn more from your opponents than from your allies. A well-reasoned opposing argument makes you examine your conclusions and do even more research.

  • Jared Frederick Feb 15, 2010 @ 3:15

    On a slightly off topic note, speaking of the “black Confederate,” I was surprised when I read this news article. I thought this forum might be the best place to get an opinion on it. Thanks.

    “Southern heritage activist appears in Whiteville
    Posted: Feb 14, 2010 8:35 AM EST Updated: Feb 14, 2010 9:12 PM EST

    Posted by Scott Saxton

    WHITEVILLE, NC (WECT) – The former president of the Asheville branch of the NAACP was scheduled to speak in Whiteville Sunday as part of a Black History Month celebration.

    H.K. Edgerton may be most recognizable for his march from North Carolina to Texas in 2002 and 2003. Edgerton and his brother walked 1,606 miles from Asheville to Austin carrying the Confederate Battle Flag in an effort to build awareness of Southern culture and history.

    Edgerton also opposed the Confederate flag exhibit at Gettysburg College by walking from Chambersburg to Gettysburg while wearing a Confederate uniform and carrying the flag.

    Edgerton says African-Americans and Whites who fought for the Confederacy considered each other “family.” He says his demonstrations are done in an effort to create dialogue.

    Edgerton was set to speak at Peace Baptist Church on Love Mill Road in South Whiteville Sunday.”

    • Kevin Levin Feb 15, 2010 @ 10:21

      Do a search for Edgerton at the top of the page and you should find plenty to follow up with.

  • markrcheathem Feb 14, 2010 @ 23:36

    I guess this means Brooks is serving as your second, Kevin.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 15, 2010 @ 0:43

      My motive here is to promote responsible scholarly discussion. I posted my offer without saying a word to Kevin.

      I was frankly taken aback by Mr. Ijames's letter to Kevin. My reaction was not all that different from my reaction to yet another exchange posted on this blog related to The State of Jones. Nothing in Mr. Ijames's letter advanced the discussion or established the starting point for such a discussion. So I'm hitting the reset button. Let Mr. Ijames present his case where it can be judged in the court of public opinion (which, I think, is superior to the dueling field). He offered his opinion about Kevin if Kevin did not respond to his offer; he'll have to face being judged by the same criteria should he turn down this offer.

      Having family by marriage in North Carolina (who are descended from Confederate soldiers, btw), I would be very interested in hearing the evidence in this matter.

      I recall a retired professor in North Carolina who plagiarized the ideas of others in presenting what he claimed was his original theory about how white northerners treated the South as an Other in literature and in everyday discussion. In truth, I think that argument borders on the obvious, but it interested me that the professional historian in question turned down a request to present “his” theory at the Southern Historical Association's annual meeting, in part because he would have had to face the people from whom he had “borrowed” (without attribution) his ideas. I hope that Mr. Ijames proves better than this.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 15, 2010 @ 0:48

        Thanks for clarifying that Brooks. I also hope that Mr. Ijames takes advantage of this offer.

        • Dan Wright Feb 15, 2010 @ 18:44

          It's good to know that you'll be using words instead of Sharps rifles. That's progress.
          I think Ijames should get all the exposure he can. If there is more exposure for his ideas, they eventually stand or fall on their own merit.

      • markrcheathem Feb 15, 2010 @ 0:52


        My comment was an admittedly poor attempt at humor.

        I like the idea of an online debate, which allows both sides not only to think through their arguments but also to footnote them.

        • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 15, 2010 @ 1:06

          Mark–Don't worry. I didn't take it as a negative comment, but as an effort to lighten up the discussion. However, I'm now aware that other blogs have also alerted their readers to Kevin's posting of Mr. Ijames's letter, and they see any effort to hold Mr. Ijames accountable for his words or to ask him to present his case as an attempt to silence him. This way Mr. Ijames has a chance to make his case and we can assess it on its merits, ask questions and so on. No one who wants to learn more about history should object to that, and anyone who tries to obstruct the process might stand accused of chilling scholarly discussion. I hope we can have that discussion, and that everyone can learn from it. Given the audience for the blogs involved, I think that whatever happens will be well-publicized in the profession.

          • Kevin Levin Feb 15, 2010 @ 1:25

            I noticed that comment as well, but I can't say I was surprised.

            As critical as I have been re: Mr. Ijames's handling of this issue I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and to learn from him. Mr. Ijames is in a unique position in that he has spent significant time with these primary sources and has had a chance to think about what they tell us about the Civil War and the Confederate war effort. I am willing to go anywhere the documents take me, but I must be provided with a compelling reason to accept a conclusion as opposed to competing explanations. Thanks again for offering to host a debate.

          • margaretdblough Feb 15, 2010 @ 13:29

            Brooks-It's a common misconception that free speech means that someone can say whatever they want but anyone who disagrees or questions is attacked as a would-be censor. The truth is the absolute opposite-the reason that the First Amendment frowns on prior restraint, etc. is that the Framers and the courts that followed hold the highest value for the free marketplace of ideas-that the answer to objectionable speech is speech and let the listeners decide.

            • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 15, 2010 @ 20:32

              I'm simply highlighting another blogger's concept of free speech. That the blogger in question resides in the state associated with the father of the Bill of Rights is … interesting. Maybe his reading of the Constitution's a bit different.

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