Skip to comments.U.S. Corrects 'Southern Bias' at Civil War Sites
Posted on 12/22/2002 7:56:45 AM PST by GeneD
GETTYSBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - The U.S. National Park Service has embarked on an effort to change its interpretive materials at major Civil War battlefields to get rid of a Southern bias and emphasize the horrors of slavery.
Nowhere is the project more striking than at Gettysburg, site of the largest battle ever fought on American soil, where plans are going ahead to build a new visitors center and museum at a cost of $95 million that will completely change the way the conflict is presented to visitors.
"For the past 100 years, we've been presenting this battlefield as the high watermark of the Confederacy and focusing on the personal valor of the soldiers who fought here," said Gettysburg Park Superintendent John Latschar.
"We want to change the perception so that Gettysburg becomes known internationally as the place of a 'new rebirth of freedom,"' he said, quoting President Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" made on Nov. 19, 1863, five months after the battle.
"We want to get away from the traditional descriptions of who shot whom, where and into discussions of why they were shooting one another," Latschar said.
The project seems particularly relevant following the furor over Republican Sen. Trent Lott's recent remarks seeming to endorse racial segregation, which forced many Americans to revisit one of the uglier chapters of the nation's history.
When it opens in 2006, the new museum will offer visitors a narrative of the entire Civil War, putting the battle into its larger historical context. Latschar said he was inspired by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., which sets out to tell a story rather than to display historical artifacts behind glass cases.
"Our current museum is absolutely abysmal. It tells no story. It's a curator's museum with no rhyme or reason," Latschar said.
It is also failing to preserve the 700,000 items in its collection, including 350,000 maps, documents and photographs, many of which were rotting away or crumbling into dust until they were put into temporary storage.
FEW BLACKS VISIT
Around 1.8 million people visit Gettysburg every year. Latschar said a disproportionate number were men and the park attracts very few black visitors.
In 1998, he invited three prominent historians to examine the site. Their conclusion: that Gettysburg's interpretive programs had a "pervasive southern sympathy."
The same was true at most if not all of the 28 Civil War sites operated by the National Parks Service. A report to Congress delivered in March 2000 found that only nine did an adequate job of addressing slavery in their exhibits.
Another six, including Gettysburg, gave it a cursory mention. The rest did not mention it at all. Most parks are now trying to correct the situation.
Park rangers and licensed guides at Gettysburg and other sites have already changed their presentations in line with the new policy. Now, park authorities are taking a look at brochures, handouts and roadside signs.
According to Dwight Pitcaithley, chief historian of the National Park Service, the South had tremendous success in promoting its "lost cause" theory.
The theory rested on three propositions: that the war was fought over "states' rights" and not over slavery; that there was no dishonor in defeat since the Confederacy lost only because it was overwhelmed by the richer north; and that slavery was a benign institution and most slaves were content with their lot and faithful to their masters.
"Much of the public conversation today about the Civil War and its meaning for contemporary society is shaped by structured forgetting and wishful thinking" he said.
If this foray into revisionist history isn't sufficient to attract more Blacks to Gettysburg there may be a need to bus them in from other National Parks...
Partly correct. It's true that the overwhelming majority of the folks up North didn't give a damn about blacks or slavery. But defense of the institution of slavery was by far the single most important reason why the southern states began their rebellion.
And when they reach the end of their economic usefulness then all you have to do is squish 'em and nobody will care. On the other hand I hear that silk worm uprisings can be really bloody.
This is entirely within the control of George Bush, without the need for congressional aproval. He is going to bear all the blame, deservedly.