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.
Yeah, heaven forefend! That may imply some nobility of action on BOTH sides, and abdicate the right of the victor to write the history.
I disagree. Several "insurrections" preceded the Confederate assault on Fort Sumter. The South was tired of having its soil "occupied" by forces alien and hostile to it, in defiance of the states' right prerogative embodied in the Constitution and cherished in the South at a level unmatched in the industrialized North.
So are we going to have an affirmative action program for female and black battlefield visitors?
Government supported PBS and National Public Radio have disproportionate fewer conservative viewers and listeners, is the government planning a revision of these institutions?
Damn their revisionist eyes.
I'm sorry, but your opinion differs with the leaders of the southern rebellion. They made it pretty clear that slavery and it's fate was first and foremost in their minds when they rebelled.
At least that's the way I've read the history.
I'm glad they're updating the visitors center. It's an Eisenhower era relic.
Smells like it too.
And that there is the reason for all of this. Maybe a nice Kwanza display at Gettysburg would be more apropriate.
Big time BARF alert!
I think that says it all. Why engage in discussions about why the war took place? Why encourage people to think, discuss or contemplate? These are dangerous, afterall. Just accept the dumbed-down publik school version we're all spoonfed ad nauseum. (Need I close my tags?)
To begin with I would suggest any of the four Declarations of the Causes of Secession issued by southern states prior to Sumter. These should not be confused with the ordnances of secession issued by all the southern states, which was the quasi-official statement of secession, but were the southern equivilent of the Declaration of Independence. In each of these slavery is frequently mentioned, above and beyond anything else. Then there are the speeches and writings of the men who participated in secession conventions. Here are some of their quotes:
As the last and crowning act of insult and outrage upon the people of the South, the citizens of the Northern States, by overwhelming majorities, on the 6th day of November last, elected Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin, President and Vice President of the United States. Whilst it may be admitted that the mere election of any man to the Presidency, is not, per se, a sufficient cause for a dissolution of the Union; yet, when the issues upon, and circumstances under which he was elected, are properly appreciated and understood, the question arises whether a due regard to the interest, honor, and safety of their citizens, in view of this and all the other antecedent wrongs and outrages, do not render it the imperative duty of the Southern States to resume the powers they have delegated to the Federal Government, and interpose their sovereignty for the protection of their citizens.
What, then are the circumstances under which, and the issues upon which he was elected? His own declarations, and the current history of the times, but too plainly indicate he was elected by a Northern sectional vote, against the most solemn warnings and protestations of the whole South. He stands forth as the representative of the fanaticism of the North, which, for the last quarter of a century, has been making war upon the South, her property, her civilization, her institutions, and her interests; as the representative of that party which overrides all Constitutional barriers, ignores the obligations of official oaths, and acknowledges allegiance to a higher law than the Constitution, striking down the sovereignty and equality of the States, and resting its claims to popular favor upon the one dogma, the Equality of the Races, white and black." -- Letter of S.F. Hale, Commissioner of Alabama to the State of Kentucky, to Gov. Magoffin of Kentucky
SIR: In obedience to your instructions I repaired to the seat of government of the State of Louisiana to confer with the Governor of that State and with the legislative department on the grave and important state of our political relations with the Federal Government, and the duty of the slave-holding States in the matter of their rights and honor, so menacingly involved in matters connected with the institution of African slavery. --Report from John Winston, Alabama's Secession Commissioner to Louisiana
This was the ground taken, gentlemen, not only by Mississippi, but by other slaveholding States, in view of the then threatened purpose, of a party founded upon the idea of unrelenting and eternal hostility to the institution of slavery, to take possession of the power of the Government and use it to our destruction. It cannot, therefore, be pretended that the Northern people did not have ample warning of the disastrous and fatal consequences that would follow the success of that party in the election, and impartial history will emblazon it to future generations, that it was their folly, their recklessness and their ambition, not ours, which shattered into pieces this great confederated Government, and destroyed this great temple of constitutional liberty which their ancestors and ours erected, in the hope that their descendants might together worship beneath its roof as long as time should last. -- Speech of Fulton Anderson to the Virginia Convention
What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession? This reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a conviction, a deep conviction on the part of Georgia, that a separation from the North-was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery. -- Speech of Henry Benning to the Virginia Convention
Gentlemen, I see before me men who have observed all the records of human life, and many, perhaps, who have been chief actors in many of its gravest scenes, and I ask such men if in all their lore of human society they can offer an example like this? South Carolina has 300,000 whites, and 400,000 slaves. These 300,000 whites depend for their whole system of civilization on these 400,000 slaves. Twenty millions of people, with one of the strongest Governments on the face of the earth, decree the extermination of these 400,000 slaves, and then ask, is honor, is interest, is liberty, is right, is justice, is life, worth the struggle?
Gentlemen, I have thus very rapidly endeavored to group before you the causes which have produced the action of the people of South Carolina. -- Speech of John Preston to the Virginia Convention
This new union with Lincoln Black Republicans and free negroes, without slavery, or, slavery under our old constitutional bond of union, without Lincoln Black Republicans, or free negroes either, to molest us.
If we take the former, then submission to negro equality is our fate. if the latter, then secession is inevitable --- -- Address of William L. Harris of Mississippi
But I trust I may not be intrusive if I refer for a moment to the circumstances which prompted South Carolina in the act of her own immediate secession, in which some have charged a want of courtesy and respect for her Southern sister States. She had not been disturbed by discord or conflict in the recent canvass for president or vice-president of the United States. She had waited for the result in the calm apprehension that the Black Republican party would succeed. She had, within a year, invited her sister Southern States to a conference with her on our mutual impending danger. Her legislature was called in extra session to cast her vote for president and vice-president, through electors, of the United States and before they adjourned the telegraphic wires conveyed the intelligence that Lincoln was elected by a sectional vote, whose platform was that of the Black Republican party and whose policy was to be the abolition of slavery upon this continent and the elevation of our own slaves to equality with ourselves and our children, and coupled with all this was the act that, from our friends in our sister Southern States, we were urged in the most earnest terms to secede at once, and prepared as we were, with not a dissenting voice in the State, South Carolina struck the blow and we are now satisfied that none have struck too soon, for when we are now threatened with the sword and the bayonet by a Democratic administration for the exercise of this high and inalienable right, what might we meet under the dominion of such a party and such a president as Lincoln and his minions. -- Speech of John McQueen, the Secession Commissioner from South Carolina to Texas
History affords no example of a people who changed their government for more just or substantial reasons. Louisiana looks to the formation of a Southern confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery, and of the free institutions of the founders of the Federal Union, bequeathed to their posterity. -- Address of George Williamson, Commissioner from Louisiana to the Texas Secession Convention