Black Confederates on Film

Well, my summer has officially started and it promises to be quite busy.  I have a couple of talks to give, a number of writing projects to finish, and somewhere in between, I need to relax and do nothing at all.  I am loathe to add anything to my plate, but I would have been foolish not to accept an invitation to be interviewed for a documentary on the history and memory of “black Confederates.”  The director of the documentary teaches at East Carolina University.

The project is in the beginning stages so I don’t have much to report.  Admittedly, I was skeptical after receiving an email from one of the director’s assistants, but a couple of phone conversations alleviated my worst fears.  My biggest concern is not having control over my interviews, specifically in terms of how they will be edited and placed in the documentary.  As you all know this is a controversial and widely misunderstood subject and the last thing that I want to see happen is my own words used to further some of the more pernicious myths.  Even with those concerns, however, I still think it would be a mistake to pass up this opportunity.

While I am flattered to have been asked to participate I should point out that I do not consider myself to be an expert in this area.  Yes, I’ve written quite a bit about the subject on this site and it even attracted a publisher, which led to an offer to write a book, but I have yet to publish anything on the subject.  In fact, my first inclination when talking with the director was to recommend others who can probably do a much better job.  At the same time, perhaps I’ve underestimated the scholarly worth of some of what I’ve written here.  Keep in mind that I tend not to think of Civil War Memory as a place where I do history.  Clearly, there are elements of that process here, but I would much rather point to my publications as examples of my work and worth as a historian as well as subjects which I can speak about with some authority.

As I said, all things considered I’ve decided to participate in this subject.  The plan is to film the interviews in the next two weeks and, of course, I will keep you updated.  Hollywood, here I come.

[Photograph by Brooks Simpson at Civil Warriors]

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

8 comments… add one
  • Rob Wick Jun 6, 2010 @ 15:40

    I don’t think you’ll have as much trouble as you think as far as having your words turned around given that the director teaches at a university. If you were dealing with someone from outside the academy, then I might be worried.

    My experience when I participated in “The Hunt for Lincoln’s Assassin” was that the film’s producers already had their mind made up as to what story they wanted to tell and used quotes to tell that story. When I read the script for the first time and told the producer that they didn’t mention Lafayette Baker at all and placed Everton Conger directly with Edwin Stanton (the two never met until after Conger returned to Washington after Booth’s death) I was thanked and then completely ignored. They had pitched the documentary to the National Geographic Channel as the exclusive story of Conger since Harrison Ford had been signed to place Conger in the dramatization of James Swanson’s book “Manhunt”. From what this sounds like, they are looking for depth and heft.

    Good luck

  • Larry Cebula Jun 6, 2010 @ 9:38

    “Dong” history encompasses many things besides peer-reviewed scholarship and you are certainly doing history here! Are they interviewing Bruce Levine?

    • Kevin Levin Jun 6, 2010 @ 10:34

      Levine’s name was one of the first mentioned.

      • Marianne Davis Jun 6, 2010 @ 13:02

        Will they be interviewing Earl Ijames? He is quoted once again on in an April article which was posted under the name of the North Carolina Governor and the Secretary of their Dept. of Cultural Resources.

        • Kevin Levin Jun 6, 2010 @ 14:14


          Let’s just say that his name did come up and leave it at that. 😀

  • Harry Jun 6, 2010 @ 5:44

    “Keep in mind that I tend not to think of Civil War Memory as a place where I do history. Clearly, there are elements of that process here, but I would much rather point to my publications as examples of my work and worth as a historian as well as subjects which I can speak about with some authority.”

    I think maybe you need to reevaluate how you view your “worth”. The fact is, you ARE “doing” history here, and Civil War Memory IS a “publication”. What you said in the above snip is illustrative of a status quo about which we’ve spoken before.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 6, 2010 @ 6:00

      Harry and Marianne,

      Yes, we have discussed this in the past. I don’t see these comments as underestimating or devaluing what I’ve done here as much as I am declaring the importance of peer-reviewed publications in the form of journals and scholarly studies. My writing here is much more of an ongoing dialog with myself and all of you. Individual posts and even entire series of posts should be thought of as works-in-progress rather than as constituting a finite process. In my view the preparation of an article or book constitutes a completed process. That’s not to say that the conclusions will not be revised or even discarded by the author, but again that the process itself involves very different stages than a blog post.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • Marianne Davis Jun 6, 2010 @ 5:06

    Not only have you underestimated the scholarly value of what you have written about black Confederates, you have forgotten about the value of this blog as the nexus of discussion. provides a valuable forum for people with both personal and academic bona fides relevant to that documentary.

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