Has It Been An “Anemic” Civil War Sesquicentennial?
Here is another excerpt from The Civil War Trust’s interview with Gary Gallagher. Here Gary responds to a question about the impact of the sesquicentennial in comparison with the centennial.
I think it’s been anemic. I don’t think many states have done much. Virginia’s done a great deal with a series of what they call Signature Conferences. There’s a state agency devoted to the sesquicentennial. They’ve had these conferences at different universities–one on emancipation; one on military affairs; we’re going to do the last one here at the University of Virginia in 2015 on the memory of the war. A book is published from each of the conferences, and there’s a website and various ancillary benefits. So I think Virginia’s done by far the best job of any state. Pennsylvania’s done a little; North Carolina’s done a little. Tennessee’s done a lot more than most. But most states have done absolutely nothing. And I think part of it is that the Civil War still can become very controversial very quickly because you can’t talk about it without talking about race. Or you shouldn’t, because slavery and issues related to slavery are so central to the coming of the war and the conflict itself. And that part of the history of the war can be so fraught, even in 2013, that it’s just easier not to do it. Which I think is too bad.
There was a lot more going on in the centennial, although it got embroiled in all kinds of racial problems as well, as I’m sure you know. There was still segregation in 1961. The national commission met in Charleston early on, which was ridiculous. It’s a vastly different world – although some people pretend it isn’t – from what it was in 1961. But there’s not nearly the attention [now]. There was a national Civil War centennial commission then that had all kinds of publications; sponsored all kinds of things. There’s nothing equivalent to that now. But then you still have the governor of Texas talking about secession as an option!
Needless to say, I completely disagree with Gary’s assessment because he places too much emphasis on the activities of state commissions. In fact, I am convinced that if you look at the local level it is likely that the number and scope of activities over the past few years far outstrips the centennial.
What do you think?