“Who’s Afraid of…?”: A Response

Thanks to Brooks Simpson for a thoughtful post about the visceral reaction that Civil War Memory engenders in certain folks.  I’ve also thought a bit about this question over the years.  Certainly, the vitriol is something that I did not anticipate.  Brooks correctly notes “that there are people (including me) who take a much more confrontational public stance on various issues, and who have not been the targets of nearly as much abuse.”  We could look at any number of things that certain readers have trouble with, including my place of birth, perceived political biases, as well as the standard litany of vague references to “anti-Southern”, “anti-Confederate”… blah, blah, blah.  Actually, I think there is something else at work here.  Brooks writes:

In short, admitting the quality of Kevin’s blog, one of the factors contributing to his influence is the reaction he engenders from people who assume he possesses such influence … which, ironically, has contributed a great deal to his influence.  If people are afraid of him, then he must be saying important things, and maybe we ought to listen to him given the reaction he sparks.  By assuming his influence, Kevin’s critics have helped make him influential.

I don’t doubt that the attention I receive from these quarters fuels interest in the blog and has contributed to my popularity.  In fact, some of my most loyal readers are counting the days until I leave the South forever.  In the end, however, this does not explain the popularity of the blog or suffice as a reason for my increased notoriety.  I suspect that what energizes this particular base is the fact that my blogging has resulted in increased opportunities to teach beyond the confines of my classroom (public lectures/workshops/advisory roles) as well as all kinds of professional writing opportunities.  I would like to think that it is the quality of my blogging as well as published work that is responsible for this success. It is the blog, however, that has allowed me to showcase this work to a broad audience that includes a small handful of folks that are offended by what I do.  It’s impossible to imagine being offered a writing gig or an opportunity to work with high school history teachers if I wasn’t perceived as a competent teacher as well as a competent practitioner of the historical craft.  To put it another way, it turns out that my blogging matters to a great many people from a wide range of backgrounds.  I suspect that this is what drives these folks to lash out in various ways.  My success is a reminder to the folks that Brooks cites in his post that their conversations have no significance beyond the walls of their blogs, listservs, and Facebook pages.

One final point.  Let’s not exaggerate the importance of the folks that Brooks references.  As far as I can tell they represent such a small sample of my readership that they don’t even appear on the radar screen.  They do not represent a significant constituency and they are not engaged in serious discussion about American history and memory.  They are at best a sideshow.  I would much rather focus on the people who have embraced my blog and helped me to better understand a crucial time in our nation’s history.

Thanks Brooks.

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

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13 comments… add one
  • John Buchanan Feb 15, 2011 @ 8:07


    You remind of Harry Truman on teh campaign trail. While speaking on his Whistlestop Campaign in 1948 and in the midst of a firey, impassioned speech someone in the crowd yelled, “Give “em Hell, Harry!” President Truman is said to have responded with “I just tell the truth and they think its Hell!”

    Keep up the great work.

    Your fellow Carpetbagger in Southside Virginia

  • Margaret D. Blough Feb 14, 2011 @ 21:46

    Kevin-It’s precisely how you stick to the evidence and avoid the invective that, IMHO, plays a major role in why you get under some people’s skins. Invective can and is easily dismissed. However, few things incite more rage than factually challenging someone’s most cherished illusions. Cognitive dissonance is very unsettling and they have to either examine those illusions or find some way to marginalize and dismiss you.

  • Bob Swartz Feb 14, 2011 @ 18:31

    I wish I had the knowledge and scholastic competence to comment on your articles. I’m like one of your “C students” who has all he can do to understand and keep up with the topic. But I can comment on why I like your blog and, perhaps, the reason some may feel threatened by you and want to lash out at you. I believe you seek the historical truth. Sometimes that may gore the South’s ox and sometimes it may gore the North’s. Admitedly, I have a Northern perspective but I share your desire for historical truth. If that reveals unflattering facts about the Federal government and its army, so be it. I support the efforts to expose those facts. Obviously, the South has a lot of history that is not flattering and some resist that reality.

    So, I laud all your hard work, historical honesty and your commitment to educating the next generation. While you won’t see comments from me every day, know that I enjoy your blog every day.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 15, 2011 @ 6:40

      Thanks for the kind words, Bob. Please don’t hesitate to respond to a post that strikes your interest. It’s an opportunity to share perspective, learn, and engage others who share your interest in history.

  • Dan Wright Feb 14, 2011 @ 13:49

    Have you been called a carpetbagger? Maybe that term fallen out of favor.
    I haven’t commented in a while, but I check in regularly. Great work on the recent posts on Lincoln.

    • Bob Huddleston Feb 14, 2011 @ 14:03

      Glad you are back up — I was afraid that the Ghosts of those 50 or 60,000 Black Confederates had taken you down!
      And Dan may be onto something– not only are you a Carpetbagger, but, even worse, you are a High School Teacher! You are polluting all those innocent young minds! Keep up the good work!

      • Kevin Levin Feb 14, 2011 @ 14:08

        Hi Bob,

        It can’t help. 🙂 Again, I come back to the fact that the people who have a problem with me are almost entirely irrelevant. They are not involved in any kind of meaningful discussion beyond the confines of their little worlds. Thanks for the comment.

  • Arleigh Birchler Feb 14, 2011 @ 12:40

    I was wondering why I had not heard from you in awhile. Servers tend to be very reliable, but problems do appear from time to time, even without any evil conspiracy or mal-intent.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 14, 2011 @ 13:01

      What’s important is customer service and Midphase has been first rate. You can call them 24-7 for updates and customer support.

  • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 14, 2011 @ 12:39

    Your competence is unquestioned. There is an interesting dynamic between the quality of the blog and the responses it engenders in some quarters. I’m wondering whether that reaction allows you to take advantage of more opportunities, which you then can exploit given your skill. In short, although sometimes these responses may open doors, it still depends upon your ability to walk through them instead of tripping over the entryway.

    • Jason Phillips Feb 14, 2011 @ 14:15

      Great observations, Brooks. Interest in the Civil War has sparked countless blogs. Some of them are more provocative than Kevin’s on certain issues, but Kevin has a knack for pushing people’s buttons. This skill gives the debates on his blog added heat, and at times, illuminating light.

      Yes, Kevin is a skilled historian. But as you point out (and epitomize) many excellent historians blog about the Civil War. So Kevin’s competence and originality alone cannot explain the success of his blog. Please don’t take this as a backhanded compliment, Kevin, but your ability to annoy a passionate minority sets your blog apart from others that offer similar content without the vitriolic spice.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 14, 2011 @ 14:34

        Hi Jason,

        Thanks for the comment. The vocal minority that you speak of makes it very easy to push their buttons. I guess this discussion depends on how we define success. If we are talking about numbers than my detractors are relatively small in number. I measure the success of this blog in terms of the people and organizations that I now regularly interact with. In that sense, my detractors are irrelevant. I also measure the success of this blog by comments from historians such as yourself, who take the time to read.

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