Ken Noe on the Civil War Centennial & Sesquicentennial

This past January historian Ken Noe shared his thoughts about the Civil War centennial and the current state of the sesquicentennial at the Alabama State Archives in Montgomery, Alabama. Ken’s edited collection of essays on Alabama’s Civil War was recently published by the University of Alabama Press.

At one point in the talk Ken suggests that an oral history project focused on Americans who lived through the centennial is needed. I couldn’t agree more. It’s a great idea for a project.

CraterThanks for reading this post. Scroll down, leave a comment and join the conversation if you are so inclined. Follow me on Twitter and join the Civil War Memory Facebook group for continuous updates and additional links to newsworthy items from around the interwebs. Stay up to date by subscribing to this blog’s feed. You can also check out my recently published book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.

3 comments… add one

  • Edwin Thompson Apr 4, 2014

    Hi Kevin – I usually don’t comment, but this is a good subject.

    Ken has a good idea, but an oral history project alone is not a good idea. It would be a disservice to the historical record. What was done in the 1960’s may not be recalled today – it may morph into another story. In the 1970’s, I lived in Alabama and I remember conversations about the civil war centennial celebration that occurred in Montgomery. People were very proud of that celebration. If a question was asked as to why the celebration occurred, it either created hostility or put an end to the conversation.

    For the project to have value, a history of the times is required to capture the thinking of the average 1960 white southerner. These were the days of the White Citizens Council, the KKK, John Patterson and George Wallace (“I’ll never be outniggered again”). That was the culture and times and they were celebrating a nation created to enslave others. In 2014, in an interconnected digital world, it will be a challenge for many white southerners to remember what it was all about. It is a good subject to document, especially in comparison to the sesquicentennial.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 4, 2014

      Robert Cook has written an excellent scholarly study on the history of the Civil War Centennial. Oral histories are all about capturing the unique perspectives of individuals. How folks experienced and remembered the Centennial is a perfect subject for study. I fail to see the problem.

  • Laura McCarty Apr 4, 2014

    Interesting talk. Thanks for sharing it, Kevin.

    After Robert Cook’s wonderful book, there have been a number of articles (including one that I wrote for the New Georgia Encyclopedia) which have tried to flesh out the story of the Centennial observances in Southern states. I’ve seen them on AL, TN, SC, etc. All of us draw on Cook for big picture and flesh out the more local details.

    In the realm of other books, David Blight has written about the Centennial, of course, in American Oracle.

    I also noticed this week that both of the recent books about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (by Todd Purdum and Clay Risen) include the Centennial observances of the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln’s birthday as moments to help set the context for their arguments.

    So long live the world of Civil War Centennial studies! Maybe the next generation of them will be the Civil War Centennial in the North?

Leave a Comment