David Graham, writing at The Daily Beast, has an informative piece about efforts, led by Jesse Jackson Jr., to “sell” the sesquicentennial of the Civil War to African-Americans.
Here is a taste:
Historians, educators, and politicians worry that many blacks don’t know and don’t care much about the Civil War—even though it’s the pivotal moment in African-American history. So with the sesquicentennial of the Civil War beginning this spring, they’re pushing for ways to make sure the black community is invested in commemorating the war, including a new emphasis on the role of slavery as the primary cause of the war—pushing back Confederate apologists who insist the war was fought over states’ rights.
“I’m for an interpretation of the war that includes more Americans,” says Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who’s been a major driving force of the changes. “The federal government, which draws its strength from having saved the union, is under an obligation to tell a broader story at the battle sites that it has preserved, and that includes an interpretation of American history where people can better understand the causes and effects of the war.”
But it’s a difficult battle, facing obstacles from lack of funding, political opposition, and apathy in the black community. Black indifference to the war is partly a legacy of botched commemorations of the war’s centennial 50 years ago, experts say.
With civil-rights battles raging across the South, the federal commission and its state counterparts stuck to discussing bullets, bombs, and battlefields, leaving the thorny question of “why” unanswered. “In a way, the civil-rights movement eclipsed the centennial and was seen by many people as being more relevant than observation and commemoration of military battles,” recalls James McPherson, an eminent Civil War historian at Princeton. “There was an idea that this war was about something that wasn’t really talked about.”
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