Over at Civil War Power Tour Joshua Blair
recently commented on the "late unpleasantness" involving a reenactors
attempt at educating a group of students about the Civil War. The
incident took place at historic Crossroads Village
in Mt. Morris, Michigan. Apparently the reenactor handed out
enlistment papers to the students until he approached a black student
and commented that he would probably have been a slave. I recall
commenting on this when the story broke.
I agree with Blair in his overall assessment of the situation:
They [reenactors] are not trained professionals or teachers. Therefore, the people that should be held responsible are the school’s
administrators. Did the administrators
not know that re-enactors are not professionals? If so, why did they believe a re-enactment
would be the most appropriate place for firsthand examination of American
history? There are many other places,
such as museums, that would have been more suitable for a field trip. The administrators should have evaluated the
sources of the presentation before deeming it appropriate for school children.
My only question is whether there is someone in the school
administration who would have been able to pick out any potential
problems with the presentation. I am skeptical. Reenactors can be a
useful source of information for a history class. It is, however,
going to be difficult for the uninformed to be able to acknowledge who
the experts are in their craft and who simply has sufficient funds and
enough of an imagination to want to dress-up as a Civil War soldier.
I’ve run into many more of the latter, but I have to say that it is
quite impressive to watch and listen to someone who really does know
When I say "know the history" I mean someone who is familiar with scholarly works
on the subject. And there is no area more significant in this regard
than our understanding of the history of slavery. To give you a sense
of how ill-informed this reenactor apparently was just think about the
fact that he could have given this student enlistment papers for a
U.S.C.T. If he didn’t think this was appropriate, how about giving him
the role of a farmer. Don’t most people know that there were free blacks in
the North before the war. How about giving him the role of a fugitive
slave? Even if there were relatively few in Michigan wouldn’t this have been more appropriate given the setting? How many black students were in the group and would singling one student out have made for an unpleasant situation? I don’t know.
My guess is that this guy did not mean any harm and I agree that the outrage expressed after the incident was probably a bit over the top.