After our discussion last month about North Carolina and the upcoming sesquicentennial, I asked Chris Meekins at the Department of Cultural Resources if he would be interested in an interview about the plans of the Department of Cultural Resources. Please find below my questions and the DCR’s answers. I hope you enjoy. You can learn more about the sesquicentennial at DCR’s website.
How will North Carolina’s Civil War Sesquicentennial differ from the centennial remembrance?
There are many differences in the two events due to both the intervening history between the events and to the way in which the committees were organized.
The first significant difference is that the Confederate Centennial Commission was a legislative creation and the North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee is not. The authority of the sesquicentennial committee derives from the Department of Cultural Resources (DCR). As steward of many historical sites, objects, and records associated with the Civil War era, the DCR Deputy Secretary, North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Dr. Jeffrey Crow recognized the coming importance of the sesquicentennial and organized a committee to prepare the DCR for the commemoration. In 1959 (renewed in 1961), the General Assembly created the Confederate Centennial Commission; charging that body with planning and conducting programs to commemorate the centennial of the Civil War and the Assembly ordered the commission to cooperate when possible with individuals, unofficial organizations, and agencies of the federal government and other states. While the Sesquicentennial Committee will perform similar responsibilities as the prior Confederate Centennial Commission it does not have the mandate or charge of the General Assembly. Thus the North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee’s authority is limited to the DCR proper.
Major historic events and new approaches in the craft of History have expanded our knowledge and understanding of the Civil War era. New historical methodologies challenged the interpretation of the war and asked important questions about the home front, soldier’s activities, African American participation as soldiers and freedmen, and women’s issues. More recent historical interpretation seeks to understand the way memory and remembrance interacts with facts to create a particular understanding of the events in both place and time. Advances have also been made in presenting living history and historic site interpretation. Understanding the Civil War era in North Carolina is no longer regulated only to the experience of the soldiers in battle; it is no longer contained in the entirety by the old “Rebel Boast” of “First at Bethel, Fartherest at Gettysburg and Chickamauga, Last at Appomattox.” Understanding the Civil War era in North Carolina is a multifaceted approach to teaching the many and varied components that created, sustained, and challenged the state during the era.
The names of the two committees reflect that change in understanding. Without question the focus of the centennial event was on North Carolina’s Confederate status. The Sesquicentennial Committee seeks to focus on the entirety of the Civil War experience and not just the Confederate heritage (which remains an integral component).
To that end, the North Carolina Sesquicentennial Committee is planning many public events to expand (hopefully) the understanding of the war era. Three major conferences are scheduled and structured around the three interpretive themes of Freedom, Sacrifice, and Memory. Every state historic site that interprets the Civil War era has scheduled major and minor events throughout the sesquicentennial period including lectures, re-enactments, and living history days. The committee is committed to an open forum on the Civil War era. State museums are developing exhibits, workshops and teacher institutes (for renewal credit). The State Archives is planning talks, workshops, exhibits, and online presentations. Our hope is to provide stimulating and compelling educational opportunities for the public to explore North Carolina’s rich Civil War heritage.
What message does the DCR want to get across to the people of North Carolina during the sesquicentennial?
The Sesquicentennial Committee wishes to invite the people of North Carolina to explore their rich, diverse, and significant shared history. To that end Deputy Secretary Dr. Jeffrey Crow charged the committee to prepare appropriate and historically accurate activities which will bring understanding of the complex issues and events to all North Carolinians. The DCR encourages participation in the various planned programs.
What areas of scholarship do the personnel of the DCR hope to see emerge during the sesquicentennial?
The DCR personnel are committed to remain up to date with current trends in historical analysis and reflect those approaches when presenting any historical interpretations to the public. Such recent trends include (but are not limited to) the study of Memory, guerilla warfare, soldier’s experience, Confederate nationalism, home front experiences, women’s studies (such as the development of political power through Ladies Aid Societies), and the African American experience (including United States Colored Troops, Emancipation Proclamation, free blacks and slaves in the Confederate forces). In addition, it would be worthwhile to revisit studies of battles, brigades, generals, and statesman - the familiar Civil War stories which continue to inform us about the Civil War era.
What can local folks in the communities around the state do to make sure that the sesquicentennial is remembered where they live?
The biggest thing that local people can do is to become involved and engaged to ensure that the Civil War sesquicentennial is remembered where they live. There are endless opportunities for such groups as local history groups, genealogy groups, heritage groups such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Sons of Union Veterans, and Sons of Confederate Veterans, to have educational forums, speakers at their meetings, coordinate local history days, etc. Citizens should consider forming Civil War 150 committees for their municipality and or county that would plan and execute activities that would resonate with local constituencies. Keeping in mind that these activities should seek to draw a wide audience and be based in objectivity and sound scholarship. It may help the local committee in planning by using the three themes – Freedom, Sacrifice, Memory – as touchstones in their activities. In addition, local committees can draw resources from the NCCivilWar150.com web site. The DCR, and in particular the North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, stands ready to assist local groups who ask for such aid. However, the impetus for such commemoration must come from a local source. The DCR is planning regional activities within the frame work of its Historic Sites, Museums, and the Archives but is not authorized to go beyond the bounds of the agency.
And along those lines, would the DCR be interested in partnering with or supporting other civic, historical, economic, and other organizations across North Carolina in an effort to expand the understanding and appreciation of the American Civil War?
The role of the DCR Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee is to plan events to promote and further the public understanding of the Civil War era. The committee is both empowered and constricted in being only an agent of the DCR (rather than a mandate from the General Assembly). On a limited basis the committee is partnering with entities and or institutions when such a partnering furthers the DCR’s outreach and educational goals. In all such instances (for example, two of the three symposia are partnered with academic institutions as host schools) the Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee retains control over the event (content, promotion, etc.). The best way for the DCR to assist civic groups is to remain, for the most part, in an advisory capacity. When opportunities arise for partnering the committee will review such opportunities and make recommendations for a course of action (partnering, advising, etc.).