Earl Ijames and His “Colored Confederate” Fantasy Continues

I haven’t written about Earl Ijames on this blog in quite some time. The curator at the North Carolina Museum of History is notorious for his presentations and even film about what he calls “Colored Confederates” – another misnomer that distorts the legal status and role of the vast majority of black men who labored for the Confederacy during the war. A friend recently attended a symposium at the Bennett Place State Historic Site in North Carolina which featured Ijames as a speaker. Not surprisingly, Ijames continues to butcher history by arguing that Confederate army was not segregated (unlike the Union army) and that black Confederates were “real soldiers, with real muskets, shooting at Union soldiers.” This is bad enough, but one slide in particular highlights the level of confusion and ignorance of Earl Ijames.

The slide featured an image of Hawkins Carter and his pension application. The accompanying interpretation of the pension by Ijames includes the claim that Carter “enlisted in the 46th Regt. NCT in 1861” followed by an excerpt from a description of where Hawkins was during the war further down.

North Carolina was one of four former Confederate states in the 1920s that extended their pension programs to include former body servants or what I call camp slaves in Searching For Black Confederates. Of these four states, North Carolina chose not to use a separate pension application for this specific group. Instead they altered the one used for real soldiers. And that is exactly what they did in the case of Carter.

The word “enlisted” is clearly crossed out and in its place the words “who went with” are added. Those words were meant to denote the legal status of Carter during the war. If that wasn’t sufficiently clear, the word “servant” was added above the next line.

Hawkins Carter was not a “black Confederate” or a “Colored Confederate” and he certainly did not “enlist” in any Confederate unit during the war. He was a slave. Slaves did not enlist in the Confederate army.

Let’s be clear, this is not a difference of opinion or interpretation. We are talking about an inability to engage in the most basic analysis of a primary source and a complete lack of understanding of the relevant historical context.

It is troubling – to say the least – that Earl Ijames continues to be given a forum to spout this nonsense. As an archivist at a prominent museum, who is allowed to speak alongside real historians, Ijames is inevitably going to be seen as an authority on this subject. He is going to be believed by most people who place their trust in institutions to feature competent and trained speakers in their respective fields.

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38 comments… add one
  • Lesco Brandon Nov 26, 2021 @ 1:35

    Levin is a sellout

    • Kevin Levin Nov 26, 2021 @ 7:17

      You will be pleased to hear that the hardcover version of SEARCHING FOR BLACK CONFEDERATES, which includes numerous references to Earl Ijames has just about sold out. Happy Thanksgiving.

  • B.Randall Burnett Jun 17, 2019 @ 9:55

    When at the White House of the confederacy in Richmond VA. This subject came up!
    A historian there took me down stairs and showed me 3 pictures of colored confederates. He told me they could not show them upstairs in the Musemun, because of conflict! Think what you want!

    B.Randall Burnett Historian
    James A Rampage Musemun
    Ft. Wright KY.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 18, 2019 @ 3:43

      They were photographs of body servants or what I call camp slaves. They were not soldiers.

      • B.Randall Burnett Jun 18, 2019 @ 8:42

        Where they give uniforms and guns?

        • Kevin Levin Jun 18, 2019 @ 9:57

          I’ve uncovered numerous accounts of masters providing slaves with uniforms and I have even found examples where slaves purchased uniforms (or parts of uniforms) with money earned doing various tasks during their free time. Camp slaves were often responsible for carrying weapons on long marches.

      • David Farrow Jul 17, 2020 @ 6:47

        It is likely that, although not numerous, there were several mixed race or freemen or body servants or body guards, who saw some form of action during the Civil War for the Confederacy. The onus is on the historians of today to prove that zero colored confederates is existed, not likely.

        • Kevin Levin Jul 17, 2020 @ 6:53

          You should read chapter 2 in my book. I go into this in great detail. The onus is not on historians, but on those who make claims that directly contradict Confederate soldiers and the government in Richmond.

    • Ken Grady Dec 19, 2020 @ 3:57

      Earl, this is astounding. The “deep diving” you do makes us proud, and corrects our history. After we met last year in your office I thought about my great grandfather, Luke Grady, and others who made strides in New Hanover County before, during, and after the war. I was inspired to produce a podcast reflecting the life he lived, and even the roads he traveled. The podcast, lukegradysfootsteps.podcast, is going to launch in February 2021. I like to interview you somtime in the Spring. My neice, Jenifer Grady will co-produce the podcast for the coming generations.

      Take care and be safe,

      Ken Grady

      • Kevin Levin Dec 19, 2020 @ 5:09

        Apparently, you didn’t bother to read the post. Earl Ijames has led far too many people astray on this subject, including the descendants of Weary Clyburn.

  • David Doggett May 4, 2019 @ 16:42

    How do the “colored Confederates” revisionists explain the fact that it was against Confederate law to enlist blacks as soldiers, until the last desparate months of the War, and there is no evidence it happened then?

    • Cliosfanboy May 5, 2019 @ 9:30

      the same way they explain how the confederate states in 1860-61 declared that they were leaving the Union because Lincoln’s election threatened slavery without mentioning tariffs. They ignore it.

    • Shane Anderson May 5, 2019 @ 10:44

      I’m amused that you’d think “rebels” would be sticklers for obeying the law. In any case, the states in the CS did as they pleased with regard to enlisting black men, mainly for labor but sometimes for combat duty, without asking for or waiting for permission from the CS federal government. And sometimes men were enlisted regardless of color for one reason or another. If a commander needed men, or a black man proved he could fight, sometimes men in the field would look the other way. None of this adds up to a large amount of black combatants in the Confederate ranks, though the number was higher than zero, certainly. You’re barking up the wrong tree if you think the federal law was strictly observed at all times or if you think the states didn’t take their own measures for their own militia ahd home guard units.

      • Kevin Levin May 5, 2019 @ 12:37

        Of course you have all the wartime documentation to back up these claims.

    • Terry Lee Helms Jan 14, 2022 @ 23:34

      There are no revisionist. The truth is blacks served n the confederate army.
      Troop rosters do not lie, pension applications do not lie. The film of the black confederate soldiers gathering with the rest of the confederate soldiers many years after the war do not lie. The only lie being pushed, is that blacks did not serve in the confederate army. You’ll have to do your research to see that states had their own troops and the states Sent those troops to fight in the larger confederate forces. The blacks that served served in those states forces and unlike their union counterparts they were integrated into those units, not as individual black units, that is what the confederate congress tried doing late in the war. They did not try and take the blacks that served in states units away from those units. So do yourself a favor. Do some real research. All history has more to it than you’ve learned since high-school.

      • Kevin Levin Jan 15, 2022 @ 4:02

        Hi Terry,

        Thanks for taking the time to read and for leaving this comment. Unfortunately, you are misinformed and clearly incapable of reviewing a single primary source such as the one in this post.

        So do yourself a favor. Do some real research. All history has more to it than you’ve learned since high-school.

        I took this advice a number of years ago, which resulted in the publication of Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth (University of North Carolina Press, 2019). What have you published on this subject?

        • Terry Lee Helms Jan 16, 2022 @ 15:53

          Hello; Kevin
          If you did your research. You failed poorly. I am glad you took the time to pin a fiction book. I do hope it hope it had cartoons that were better at showing your feelings on the subject.
          Thanks for trying to sell another fiction book, to me by mentioning it in your response.
          Too bad for you again, the facts are plainly stated in public libraries, even the pension application you try and revise, but again that application and other factual documents, really do not care how you feel.
          Try as you and a few others may, you can not hide truth and facts.
          You may want to try again with your research. But this time void of your feelings.

          • Kevin Levin Jan 16, 2022 @ 16:31

            Fascinating analysis. LOL

            • Terry Lee Helms Jan 16, 2022 @ 23:19

              Glad you find it so. Pitty you started your supposed research and book, with using your feelings instead of actual facts. I would suppose it is hard for you and those like you to fathom that facts will always over ride your feelings and self indulged conclusions.

              • Kevin Levin Jan 17, 2022 @ 2:57

                I have no doubt that you believe this, but this is also not very interesting. In fact, it’s downright boring. This will be the last comment that I approve for this particular post from you. Good day.

  • Jalane Schmidt May 4, 2019 @ 8:45

    The NC Museum of History is a Smithsonian affiliate. It is ridiculous that this person spouts his pseudo history at taxpayer expense.

    • Gwen Goodkin May 5, 2019 @ 2:37

      That sounds worth pursuing with the Smithsonian!

  • Andy Hall May 4, 2019 @ 8:09

    Here is a link to a high-res version of the Hawkins Carter application.


    • Kevin Levin May 4, 2019 @ 8:43

      Thanks, Andy.

  • Louis Drew May 3, 2019 @ 12:33

    It seems to me that anyone who is able to read should be able to see that you’ve interpreted the document correctly. Mr. Ijames, not so much…

    • Kevin Levin May 3, 2019 @ 12:40

      I assume any reasonable person can see this.

  • Rob Baker May 3, 2019 @ 7:36

    How unfortunate.

    The title next to his name certainly adds a tremendous amount of street cred for any casual reader. Ijames’s analysis and interpretation of documents is just absolutely horrid and misleading. At what point does it verge on outright lies? I have no idea what his educational background but it’s obvious he lacks training to interpret documents.

    And I agree with you Kevin, it’s very unnerving that he continues to get a forum to engage in pseudo-history. It would be one thing if that forum was a right leaning media outlet but the fact that it is an institution of history, education, and preservation is all the more horrific.

    • Andy Hall May 3, 2019 @ 10:40

      Rob, there’s an audience for the story he’s offering. Most of the audiences he speaks to, I’d guess, not only want to be assured of the willing and patriotic service of “Colored Confederates,” but wouldn’t be able to catch the holes in his interpretation if they wanted to. I’ve been in the same situation innumerable times, and it’s only the commitment of the speaker to accuracy and the original sources that keep him or her on the track. There aren’t any real guard rails to keep the speaker from swerving off into the ditch.

      • Rob Baker May 3, 2019 @ 10:50

        I definitely don’t disagree with that

      • Kevin Levin May 3, 2019 @ 10:51

        That is certainly the case, but as far as I can tell this most recent talk was not in a venue of Confederate apologists. Regardless, Earl Ijames has no business discussing this subject in any public setting.

  • Bob Beatty May 3, 2019 @ 5:22

    Interestingly enough, the archivist field has long-established policies that preclude them from interpreting documents altogether. I think that’s changing, but for the most part, they are trained to just present/preserve the material and that’s about it.

    • Kevin Levin May 3, 2019 @ 5:28

      Thanks, Bob.

  • Michael Amaral May 3, 2019 @ 3:59

    Folks have been claiming “Rebel Authority” for over 150 years, Kevin. Its clear to me what the pension application reads, however you said that is says “servant” on the line below…I see it as ” as servant”…which only reinforces your argument. By the way, The Walpole Board of Selectmen recently appointed me as an Associate Member of the Historical Commission a few weeks ago. History needs to be defended in the face of those that wish to rewrite it….

    • Kevin Levin May 3, 2019 @ 4:03

      Congratulations on your new position.

      The level of incompetency on the part of Ijames is bewildering to me. Again, it’s not simply a matter of competing interpretations. He is just flat out wrong. Thanks for the comment.

  • Ryan Trainor May 3, 2019 @ 3:02

    Professional archivists have a responsibility to offer accurate interpretation of the records they steward. This feels like someone has an agenda. I am not familiar with this museum, but I might guess a few underlying causes of such recklessness: the “archivist” is not trained in archival theory through an ALA accredited program or certification, or there is an organizational and/or cultural push in the museum, perhaps driven by funding or membership pressures, to wield this narrative as a way to engage their audience based on their socio-political or demographics. It is irresponsible stewardship but it also sounds as if an agenda is being pushed over a fairly straightforward example.

    • Kevin Levin May 3, 2019 @ 3:05

      Ijames has been pushing this nonsense for years. I am not familiar with his formal training, but he has maintained a close relationship with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

      • Robert Bailey May 3, 2019 @ 21:43

        Where do these folks come from? As a past SCV camp commander we from time to time were faced with a questionable applicant who by lineage wanted to associate with us. Woe be to you if you took a chance and let your guard down.

        • Kevin Levin May 4, 2019 @ 1:37

          Hi Robert,

          Thanks for taking the time to comment, but I am not sure I entirely understand your point.

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