I decided to watch it once again though I was struck by just how much this question of whether we should approach battlefields creatively and broadly has become such a non issue. Ten years later and none of the concerns expressed by the late Jerry Russell and Robert K. Krick have come to pass. Go to any Civil War battlefield and the focus is still on the soldiers and the fighting. The only difference is that in many of these same places visitors have the opportunity to understand more and better. Russell’s and Krick’s emphasis on Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s involvement provided an opportunity to distract the audience from the fact that NPS historians/staff have debated these issues going back to the early twentieth century. The question of whether the causes of the war, the home front, etc. should be interpreted on battlefields is an old one. At one point Russell actually says that any discussion of the cause of the war, regardless of whether the focus is slavery, states rights, etc., is inappropriate on the battlefield. It really is as if the men who fought these bloody battles just fell from the sky. Looking back it is also clear that Krick completely missed the mark. Show me a battlefield that has become a “political platform.”
During the Q&A [1:36:20] John Coski read a question directed to Jerry Russell concerning the proper interpretation of the 9-11 attacks in New York City. I happened to be sitting next to Peter Carmichael, who wrote the question down on an index card provided by event organizers. Jerry held to his guns and suggested that the causes of the attacks should not be discussed in any future museum or interpretive panels at Ground Zero. Thankfully museum interpreters did not listen.
This panel is well worth watching, but it does reflect how far we’ve come. In the end, Dwight Pitcaithley and Ed Ayers were on the right side of history.
What follows is a guest post by Thom Bassett, who recently took a trip to Virginia to explore Civil War battlefields and other sites. He took the time to visit the new MOC museum at Appomattox and sent along this review.Thom teaches at Bryant University in Providence, R.I. He has written numerous essays for the New York Times Disunion blog and is currently working on a novel about William Tecumseh Sherman.
For another, and more important, the MoC-Appomattox overall is a superb example of sophisticated, accessible, evocative, intellectually honest public narrative about the Civil War. While it’s in some respects still very much a work in progress, the museum nonetheless already meaningfully informs and engages the public about the war and its significance today.
The first videos from Appomattox are being posted on the YouTube page of the Virginia Flaggers. In this short video members describe visitors and representatives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans as “scalawags” and “stink faces.” How very classy. Apparently, the SCV’s General Executive Committee issued a resolution requesting that all members boycott participating in the opening ceremonies. A few chose to participate. What I don’t understand is why the SCV didn’t encourage more to attend: more units, more flags. In fact, by the looks of it the MOC did nothing to prevent visitors from carrying Confederate flags on the grounds.
This protest reminds me of the situation in Lexington. In both cases no one is being prevented from waving a Confederate flag.
I have never been, and I have no plans to…. These people are still fighting the Civil War. They’re just not honest about the history and the story.
Khalfani’s bio page includes the following:
My greatest accomplishment is that I am by choice a revolutionary Afrikan Man. I am a Pan-Afrikanist. I am one who speaks truth to power unashamedly on behalf of Afrikan people. I have not cringed or cowered when faced with criticism, ostracism or threats of bodily harm.
Perhaps the Civil War just doesn’t fall on the radar screen of someone who self-identifies as an Afrikan Man or Pan-Afrikanist. That’s fine. What I do have a problem with, however, is when we speak truth to power without any evidence behind the action. Khalfani is no better than the Virginia Flaggers, Ed Sebesta, and the SCV, who have done next to nothing to explore what the Museum of the Confederacy has to offer.
I spent a few minutes on the Virginia NAACP’s website and I can’t find anything having to do with the Civil War Sesquicentennial. How unfortunate. Of course, other issues demand attention and resources, but this is a unique opportunity to connect the African American community in Virginia to an incredibly rich history. The Museum of the Confederacy is an essential stop along that journey. I’ve written quite a bit about the challenges associated with attracting African Americans to Civil War related events. To the extent that an adult white male can sympathize, I get it. That said, at some point we have to move beyond these irresponsible outbursts.