When people think about Reconstruction after the Civil War, their minds are apt to conjure images of social unrest in fire-scorched Charleston or ransacked Atlanta than anything that was happening in Concord.
Even though the Cabarrus County city never was a setting for battle during the war, it did play its part in patching the nation back together, and The Concord Museum will show how in its new exhibit, “Coming Home/Moving Forward: The End of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and its Impact: 1865-Present.”
Cabarrus County escaped much of the physical destruction of the Civil War. There wasn’t need for mass rebuilding efforts of torched courthouses or homesteads, like other cities in the South experienced.
That may have been one of the reasons why the Freedman’s Committee of the Presbyterian Church chose the area to build Scotia Seminary, the first school of higher learning built after the Civil War for African-American women. It evolved into Barber-Scotia College, which still operates in Concord today.
The Rev. Luke Dorland, who later became the seminary’s first president, was tasked by the committee with finding a location in the South for the school – a place where African-American females, now free, could finally receive their formal educations.
“At last, I have found the place, a healthful climate, near Concord, North Carolina,” Dorland said in the autumn of 1866.
“It was specifically designed to educate recently emancipated African-American women and help them transition to free living life,” said Ashley Sedlak-Propst, interim executive director and curator for The Concord Museum.
The exhibit brings out early images from the Barber-Scotia archives, such as photographs of the original seminary – a single building that stands alone – and class pictures of the first students to attend. Many would later graduate as teachers or social workers, the school’s main offerings at the time.
It was an attempt to level the playing field for all Americans. Former slaves no longer had to choose between work as domestics or farm hands. Their choices were expanded.
It was an adjustment for all, and not without struggles.
Many of the artifacts in the exhibit come from Concord native Isaac Newton Pharr, a corporal in the Confederate Army who described on the backs of wallpaper samples the transitions taking place in town as soldiers returned home.
“He talked about how when he came home from the war, he expected his slaves to still be at the house, and when he came home they weren’t. They had taken their freedom and left,” said Sedlak-Propst.
The exhibit offers a glimpse of a time in the United States when big changes were in the works. African-Americans were lining up for the first time to cast votes in political elections. Some were running for office.
It was a time of great promise that didn’t last forever. “There were a lot of steps forward before things started backsliding, when the Jim Crow Laws started coming around,” said Sedlak-Propst.
Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to go?
“Coming Home/Moving Forward: The End of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and its Impact: 1865-present” is on display 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday until Dec. 22 at The Concord Museum, Historic Courthouse, 65 Union St. S., Concord. It is free and open to the public. www.historiccabarrus.com.