Earl Ijames’s Silence is Deafening (Part 2)

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.

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16 comments… add one
  • mariannedavis Feb 26, 2010 @ 16:04

    The North Carolina Museum of History has quite an extensive website, which includes a number of online exhibitions. I have not been able to find there any of Ijames' work on black soldiers, North or South. Am I looking in the wrong place?

    • Kevin Levin Feb 26, 2010 @ 16:24

      It would be interesting to know whether the NC Museum has ever organized an exhibit on this subject that is based on Ijames's research. I am not aware of anything.

  • John Maass Feb 26, 2010 @ 15:08

    Earl Ijames was so helpful to me while doing my Ph.D. dissertation research in Raleigh, I was surprised to see all of this stuff here.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 26, 2010 @ 15:49

      I've actually heard the same said by others and I am glad to hear it. I am sure that he does a good archivist/curator and I wish him all the best in that regard.

  • Shane Christen Feb 26, 2010 @ 13:15

    I have always found it fascinating that when it comes to “Black Confederates” it is so difficult to find their names, their pictures, graves, who they served w/ etc. Yet it is fairly easy to verify a white soldier in the ranks of the CS. Standards of scholarship and research are simply cast aside for a fleeting bit of fiction that suits a specfic Lost Cause agenda when it comes to the “Black Confederate” question.

    Earl Ijames is so interested in the service of Black men from NC that he wholly ignores the service of USCT men from NC. USCT men at least can be identified as actual soldiers who verifiably served. And they deserve to be honored. But as they apparently fought beneath the wrong flag there are those who do not think so.

    A historian/Curator/ whatever the man's position within the state should not be allowed to make up history for entertainment value and that is all Mr Ijames is doing.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 26, 2010 @ 13:32

      Actually, Mr. Ijames does do presentations that focus on USCTs from North Carolina. I can't speak to the quality of his research in this area. From everything I've read of his interpretation of “black Confederates” his research and analytical skills are questionable.

  • William Feb 25, 2010 @ 4:00

    Why an online debate ? A live public debate would be better.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 25, 2010 @ 10:09

      A live public debate would clearly be more entertaining for some. However, what Mr. Ijames needs to do at this point is publish his research in a peer reviewed journal. That is what serious historians do. Finally, I have agreed to a public debate/forum to be held at an upcoming academic conference. Mr. Ijames is apparently not interested.

      • Richard Feb 25, 2010 @ 12:16

        Ride down to the Battle of Bentonville on March 20-21. I think you will find the cast of characters your interested in. Perfect place for a debate.

        • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 25, 2010 @ 19:24

          How so? More heat than light, I bet. More entertainment than education.

          • Richard Feb 25, 2010 @ 21:15

            Well thats what this is all about is it not? Entertainment. This Civil War thing is in itself a cottage industry. A business.

            • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 26, 2010 @ 2:49

              Maybe to you. 🙂

            • Bill Baetz Feb 26, 2010 @ 3:42

              I would guess that people who further the notion that there were “thousands” of black Confederate soldiers are entertaining themselves quite nicely.

            • Jonathan Dresner Feb 26, 2010 @ 16:57

              “Well thats what this is all about is it not? Entertainment. This Civil War thing is in itself a cottage industry. A business.”

              Hardly. IANA Americanist, but I recognize that Civil War history, military and otherwise, raises interesting questions that connect to larger social, economic and political issues being addressed by historians outside of the CW community. In this case, issues of identity politics, the attempt to normalize the Confederacy, and matters of historiographical and evidentiary standards are at stake.

              Some people find it entertaining — I enjoy it, myself — but this is History.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 25, 2010 @ 19:07

      How so? All Mr. Ijames has been asked to do is to present his findings, including documentation, online so that all of us can see them. How would that be accomplished in a public “debate” where the audience is limited?

      That said, Mr. Ijames was asked aout the possibility of presenting at a professional conference, where his work would be assessed according to the standards of his profession. That would be a public debate. He did not respond to that offer. So perhaps you should direct your query to him.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 25, 2010 @ 20:12

        Most of the people who are pushing a public debate are not really interested in this subject. They just want to be entertained or have an opportunity to root for one side. It's just another example of what is so wrong with this subject.

        I find it funny that people think that I have a fundamental disagreement with Mr. Ijames. Yes, I have challenged specific claims that he has made in public, but for their to be a disagreement there has to be a coherent interpretation in some format – preferably a peer reviewed publication. Mr. Ijames has not done that. I eagerly await the point where I can agree or disagree with his understanding of the subject.

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