Up & Coming Weekly

June 18, 2019

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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Page 14 of 32

14 UCW JUNE 19-25, 2019 WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM COVER STORY Needed: North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center by KARL MERRITT A few years ago, I got the sense that the North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Cen- ter proposed for Fayetteville had substantial public support and was moving toward realization. Over the past few weeks, media reports and commen- tary on social media, especially Facebook, tell a different story. Given that the opposition, in my estimation, presents bits and pieces of information that fit their narrative, I decided to look for facts that would allow me to assess this Fayetteville opportu- nity fairly. I started by attending a meeting, May 18, of Cumberland County Citizens United. Representa- tives of the History Center talked about the effort and answered audience questions. ey were John "Mac" Healy, president of the Civil War & Reconstruction History Center board of directors; Mary Lynn Bryan, board vice president ; and David Winslow, president of the History Center. In the days after that meeting, I spent substantial time researching this endeavor. In the end, I concluded that what is being pursued is desperately needed not only for North Carolina but for all of America. What follows are some of the facts and consider- ations that led me to this conclusion. Start with the storytelling focus of the History Center as stated in the following segment from its information brochure: "North Carolina's Civil War stories are much more than the stories of soldiers and battles. ey are the stories of our home- front, and they include the experiences of women, children, the elderly, yeoman farmers and African Americans, freed and enslaved. ey are stories of Quaker pacifists and strong secessionists living side by side. "e NC Civil War & Reconstruction History Cen- ter will tell them all, truthfully, based on solid schol- arship and honoring the memory of the sacrifices made by North Carolinians from all walks of life." My life experience says that knowing what others have gone through, what has shaped their thinking, makes it much more likely that we can successfully address the relationship-stressing dif- ferences that divide us. For some years, I had a neighbor around the corner from me who had a huge Confederate flag in the window, facing a major street. Without a doubt, it would have been productive if anybody who was troubled by that flag could have calmly and respectfully heard the story as to why he or she put it in place. I believe the approach of this center will promote this process of hearing and appreciating one another's stories. e other value in storytelling is that those who hear the stories are often inspired and instructed in ways that contribute to success in their liv- ing. My father spent the early years of his life in Miller County, Georgia. He often referred to Miller County during his youth as being the most rac- ist county in America. When Daddy was 16 years old, his father was shot and killed. Mama Nettie, my paternal grandmother, was left alone to rear six sons and a daughter. Another daughter was an adult. e family had spent years sharecropping, but after my grandfather's death, they moved to a plantation where they rented land for farming. Times were hard, very difficult. From that circumstance, Daddy, his two sisters and four of his brothers went on to finish college and build very successful lives. e one brother who did not earn a college degree completed mor- tuary training. He also became a valued scientist with the federal government. ey accomplished all of this despite the pain and struggle experi- enced in Miller County and beyond. I really got to know my father's story as we re- corded hours of conversation so that I could work with him to write a book about his life. Whatever success I have achieved is due, in great part, to being inspired and instructed by my father's story. We live in a time when far too many Americans, especially the young, do not have access to these stories that inspire and instruct for successful liv- ing. Instead, there is an overabundance of stories and experiences that have just the opposite impact. I firmly believe that this essential need for tell- ing the stories of people from the Civil War and Reconstruction periods will be accomplished through this project. In part, that conviction is inspired by my reading some of the stories already collected and posted on the Center's website at http://nccivilwarcenter.org/featured-stories. ere is further evidence that the focus will be on people, their thinking about the happenings of this period, the challenges and how they were addressed. For me, further evidence comes in the process being employed by the History Center. North Carolina's leading scholars on the antebel- lum, Civil War and Reconstruction periods were brought together over two days. ey presented facts regarding these periods that are the History Center's focus. Philip Gerard, the author of at least 12 books and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, was invited to attend the two days of meetings and, from it, construct a co- herent narrative to bring together those facts. e process described in the preceding para- graph resulted in a 30-page document that sub- stantiates the History Center's focus on people and their stories. As planned, this narrative based on facts was written by Gerard. In words, he brings alive the harsh living condi- tions faced by people in North Carolina even before the Civil War. en there is fact-based ad- dressing of stories of struggle and perseverance. Woven in is a look at what caused the Civil War and the journey to it. ere is a multitude of facts that dispel some of the assumptions about those who lived in the South. is matter of assumptions is a critical point because coming to grips with it can help produce an atmosphere conducive to productive conversation relating to race and other divisive issues. Gerard's narrative was used in the beginning planning of the exhibits and the digital education program. As I read Gerard's straightforward narrative, I thought about the concern raised by many that any reference to the Civil War dissuades black Americans from engaging in the dialogue. e argument is that this response is due to the Civil War, and any reference to it, being a reminder of the horrible episode of slavery. My observation is that American society has regressed to a point where we, almost totally, e North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center brings cultural value in telling the stories of people in North Carolina. It will bring economic value as a visitor attraction for people who come to Fayetteville from around the state and around the country.

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