Congratulations John Latschar

John Latschar has accepted a position as the next president of the Gettysburg Foundation after 14 years with the NPS.  During that time he has overseen major changes to the battlefield, including the demolition of the national tower and landscape rehabilitation.  His most important project was the planning and completion of a new state-of-the-art visitor center, which includes what I believe to be the finest Civil War exhibit to be found anywhere.  It’s no surprise that Latschar would want to move on to new challenges, but it is comforting to know that he will continue to work closely with the NPS to maintain one of this nation’s most cherished sites.

Latschar’s detractors are already unleashing their venom.  One fellow blogger has described this appointment as a case of Latschar “feathering his own nest”. The article linked to in this post suggests that Latschar was surprised by the offer and took a few weeks to consider it.  This doesn’t sound like a conspiracy to me but, than again, what do I know.

Stay, Forrest! Stay! (for now)

By now most of you have heard that the Duval County School Board has decided not to change the name of a Jacksonville High School after Nathan Bedford Forrest.  The sometimes divisive debates over the naming and renaming of public buildings and other sites cuts to the core of the close link between history and politics.  In the case of the South these debates reflect drastic changes in the face of local and state government following the civil rights movement.  They are debates over how a community uses its public spaces to reflect its shared history.  Historians have written extensively in recent years concerning the way in which local and national memory has been shaped by Jim Crow politics and a belief in white supremacy. 

The debate in Jacksonville is just another example of what happens when a broader spectrum of the citizenry is allowed to take part in conversations about who should be remembered and why.   This has nothing to do with overturning the heritage of the South; in fact, it is entirely about forging a more inclusive memory and one that can be pointed to as reflective of a community's values.  The two black members of the school board voted for changing the name of the school while the majority voted to retain it.  I obviously know nothing about what went into the decision of the other members, but I have to wonder if they understood what the name might mean to a predominantly black community and even the few black students who actively voiced their concern such as senior, Cardell Brown.  Did they bother to consider how their school came to be named after Forrest or why public places such as schools tended not to be named after Forrest until the civil rights movement?

While Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Kirby Smith and others were all commemorated with schools, community centers, and parks during the height of Confederate commemoration, Forrest's name remained closely tied to the KKK.   In fact, the most powerful "klavern" or local Klan was the Nathan Bedford Forrest Klavern #1, located in Atlanta during the 1940s and 50s.  On the eve of the opening of the school students voted to name it Valhalla, while the booster club bought football uniforms outfitted with Vikings.  The decision to name the school after Forrest was a last-minute decision, although the superintendent warned that the decision might prove to be a mistake just three years after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of school desegregation.  Was this really a coincidence?

It was a vote that led to the naming of the school, a vote to retain it, and it will only take a vote in future to change it.  There is nothing sacred about the names of our public buildings.  They reflect the people who either have control of local government or choose to be involved. 

Civil War Memory Turns Three

Three years ago this weekend I started blogging at Civil War Memory.  At the time I had little sense of what I was doing or where it would lead.  Over time the place of blogging within my broader historical interests has become much more carefully defined.  It has led to writing projects, speaking invitations, and has put me in contact with some wonderful people in the National Park Service, academia, the Virginia State government and countless others who make Civil War Memory a part of their daily routine.  Thanks to all of you for reading and sharing your thoughts.  I haven't lost any steam even after 1,487 posts so you are stuck with for at least the near future.

With that in mind keep a lookout for some major changes to this site over the next few months. 

Referencing Civil War Memory and a Very Special Speaking Engagement

About a year ago I did a phone interview with Julie Holcomb who is a lecturer at Baylor University and former director of the Pearce Collections at Navarro College in Texas.  Julie was in the process of writing an essay on the challenges of creating public exhibits and museum displays concerning the Civil War.  Julie focused specifically on how our competing interpretations of the Civil War continue to shape the content and interpretation of various exhibitions.  We talked for about an hour and I wished her all the best in her research. 

A few days ago one of my readers notified me that Julie's essay appeared in a recently-published book by Charles Grear, titled, The Fate of Texas: The Civil War and the Lone Star State (University of Arkansas Press, 2008).   It arrived yesterday and I finally had a chance to read Julie's essay.  I was pleased to see that Civil War Memory was cited extensively throughout the chapter and alongside notable historians of memory and public history such as David Blight, Edward Linenthal, John Coski, and Dwight Pitcaithley.  It's nice to see that blogs are being taken seriously by scholars.   There has been a continuous stream of controversies surrounding museum displays and other exhibits over the past few years and blogging provides an ideal format with which to address these issues and in a way which reaches competing interest groups among the general public.  Thanks Julie.

Today I enthusiastically accepted an invitation from the National Park Service to be the keynote speaker at this years Annual Battle of Fredericksburg Ceremony on December 14 at 2pm.  The ceremony includes the laying of wreaths by the UDC and SUV.  I am going to talk about what we as a community can learn from these battlefields and how battlefields such as Fredericksburg fit into my own teaching about the Civil War and memory.