I am counting down the days for Wednesday’s much-anticipated inaugural event of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Virginia is far ahead of the pack in organizing events for this 4-year commemoration. In fact, we are so far ahead that we extended the time line to include events marking the lead up to the war. On Wednesday, April 29, 2,000 people from all over the country will converge on the University of Richmond for a day-long conference that addresses various aspects of life in the United States on the eve of the war. Edward L. Ayers, who is the president of the university, as well as the organizer of the event, promises lively discussion along the lines of a format that we’ve come to know all so well in his scholarship:
We have the opportunity to look at this with a fresh eye. Let’s enter into a conversation with these people of the past and understand just what they were thinking. How was it they could end up killing people that were their neighbors?
As I mentioned before, I will be attending this conference as something along the lines of an official blogger. I will have full media access and will view the day’s proceedings from a media booth with the Washington Post, AP, Richmond Times-Dispatch, etc. You will have a chance to view a live webcast and ask questions of the panelists through my blog. [I recently read that VMI is also organizing a live webcast of the event on their campus.] My plan is to live blog, Twitter, and take some video so you should expect constant updates in the form of commentary, interview, and images. I will also be hosting The Educator’s Affinity Group Lunch for teachers who are interested in networking and discussing the morning sessions. This promises to be an educational and fun day and I encourage all of you to take part.
I leave you with some thoughts from a few of the panelists:
Charles B. Dew, professor of American history at Williams College in Massachusetts, said southerners have been unwilling to confront a prewar economy based on slavery while northerners have sought to blot out memories of their own “profoundly racist” society. “Americans, like most people, want a usable past. They want it to make sense,“ Dew said. The conference, he said, is an opportunity “for shining some light in some of the darker corners in Virginia, and by extension, Southern history in a very critical moment.”
As president of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar in Richmond, Christy S. Coleman makes it her mission to offer a more complex, layered view of the conflict. The roles of women on the homefront and suffragists who began their activism in the anti-slavery movement are rarely told, she said. “These women not only advocated for freedom of the enslaved, but began to tie the issue to the lack of freedom that women had in the nation,“ she said.
Manisha Sinha, an associate professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said the role of black Americans is especially overshadowed in the “whitewashed version — literally and figuratively — of the war itself and its consequences.“ “It’s about time when we talk about the Civil War in the South that we take into perspective not just the views of white southerners but also of black southerners,“ she said.