National Park Service Needs a Stricter Confederate Flag Policy

Update: Sorry to see that the staff at the Stones River National Battlefield chose to remove the post featured below from their Facebook page. That’s disappointing given the many perspectives shared in the comments section.

I fully support the recent decision to remove gift items featuring the Confederate flag in National Park Service stores. In fact, I believe this policy should be extended to include a ban on Confederate flags from park ground except in situations that are strictly controlled by the NPS for the sake of public education. Of course, there are First Amendment concerns, but the events of this summer have clearly demonstrated that the many meanings attached to the Confederate flag extend beyond its role as a soldiers flag in a war that took place 150 years ago. Park visitors ought to feel safe when visiting Civil War sites and that simply cannot be guaranteed given the violence that has taken place around the Confederate flag this summer and throughout its history stretching back to the 1940s. Continue reading “National Park Service Needs a Stricter Confederate Flag Policy”

Calling All Public Historians

Yesterday’s post about my good friend John Hennessy left me wondering what, if anything, has taken place or is being planned in museums, historical societies and other institutions to help their communities make sense of the relevant history behind our ongoing and very emotional discussion about Civil War memory.

It’s an opportune moment for public historians, who focus on the Civil War Era and the history of race relations. Folks who have never thought about the American Civil War are giving it a good deal of thought. No doubt, some of that reflection is based on bad history. Continue reading “Calling All Public Historians”

The High Ground Held

This morning I read through an essay by Robert K. Sutton about the National Park Service’s Holding the High Ground initiative, which grew out of a meeting in 1998 addressing concerns about the scope of Civil War battlefield interpretation. NPS historians were already thinking carefully about what it means to interpret Civil War sites even before the controversial call to do so by Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. in 2000. In 2008 the Holding the High Ground plan for the sesquicentennial outlined a broader definition of Civil War sites and included ways to integrate voices from civilians on the home front, slaves as well as broader discussions of politics, social change, economics and the legacy of the war. Continue reading “The High Ground Held”

Where Should the National Park Service Interpret Reconstruction?

It’s been noted on this blog more than once that we currently do not have a historic site devoted to Reconstruction. Today in the Atlantic Greg Downs and Kate Masur announced that the National Park Service has undertaken a study to rectify this oversight. As the authors note, this project is fraught with challenges associated with the complexity of the history itself and the many myths that still influence how we remember this period in our history. The larger problem is that Reconstruction has largely disappeared from our collective memory.

So, where should such a site be located? Given the time period that needs to be covered (roughly 1863 to 1877) the site needs to be flexible in its potential to cover more than just an event. It needs to be able to convey change over time and multiple narratives. The site will also need to convey both the successes and setbacks of Reconstruction.  Continue reading “Where Should the National Park Service Interpret Reconstruction?”

Will the Real Appomattox Commemoration Please Stand Up

This morning I set out to write a post in response to Jamelle Bouie’s column at Slate which details his assessment of a commemoration of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. A few of you likely read it before I took it down. I had some strong words for the author that turned out to be completely unjustified and I want to take this opportunity to apologize to Mr. Bouie. I could not understand how he arrived at his conclusions after claiming to have attended the event, but what I didn’t understand is that there were two commemorations of Appomattox and apparently they offered two very different narratives.

Bouie attended an event organized by the Appomattox County Historical Society and featured primarily reenactors. The author noted the lack of references to slavery and the presence of USCTs in the Army of the James, which helped to prevent Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia from reaching Lynchburg.

But missing in this remembrance, and in the audience as well, were black Americans. Of the thousands of re-enactors and thousands more spectators, only a handful were black. And while this may seem minor (or worse, a needless invocation of race), it’s a terrible disadvantage. The real Appomattox wasn’t just about reunion; it was about emancipation as well.

I am not surprised that this is what Bouie experienced given the focus of the event, but I do wish that the author had resisted the urge to draw a conclusion about the sesquicentennial based on this one event. In fact, if he had attended the National Park Service’s 3-day commemoration Bouie would have witnessed a very different commemoration. Continue reading “Will the Real Appomattox Commemoration Please Stand Up”