History that can unite us

The Observer editorial board

An artist’s rendering of the $65 million N.C. Civil War History Center planned for Fayetteville.
An artist’s rendering of the $65 million N.C. Civil War History Center planned for Fayetteville. Courtesy N.C. Civil War History Center

When you hear about plans for a $65 million N.C. Civil War History Center in Fayetteville, you wonder how organizers will steer clear of the rancorous debates still sparked by that era and its potent symbol, the Confederate battle flag.

But they’ll quickly assure you that this project stands a better chance of healing such divisions than stoking them.

The organizers seek support from public and private sources to build what will be a “teaching museum” – as opposed to a “collecting museum” – at the site of the old Fayetteville Arsenal, a munitions plant critical to the Confederacy’s war effort.

The Confederate battle flag won’t fly above the center, since the center aims to tell all of our Civil War stories – those of the many North Carolinians who fought for the Confederacy, as well as those who fought against it.

The flag will be displayed inside the museum, as it should be.

The center, touted as the first ever to focus on the war’s impact on a single state, will spotlight how everyday citizens across North Carolina were affected in the run-up to it, by the cataclysm itself, and the Reconstruction period.

It will touch on major battles and war strategy, and will display the old artifacts such as pistols and uniforms that we associate with Civil War historical sites. Artifacts won’t be used for their own sake, but rather to tell the stories of citizens on the home-front.

Former Republican Gov. Jim Martin and former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt serve as honorary co-chairs of the effort’s board of advisers. Organizers have also recruited leading businessmen, historians and civic leaders.

How will they teach about the Civil War era without taking sides? Was it about white supremacists defending slavery or about brave patriots defending their homeland?

They say that by including diverse voices, they can produce a more complete and balanced portrait. They are actively seeking to include the perspectives of people the history books have tended to overlook: Native Americans, women, children, yeoman farmers, and African Americans both freed and enslaved.

Patricia Timmons-Goodson, who served from 2006 to 2012 as the first African-American woman on the N.C. Supreme Court, is lending her support.

She recalls feeling left out during a childhood field trip to Charleston, where tours of Fort Sumter and other sites overlooked the lives of blacks.

She says so much about who we are today was forged during the Civil War era. By telling the Civil War stories of all North Carolinians, perhaps blacks and whites can better understand each other today.

The shootings of black churchgoers in Charleston showed how dangerous misinformation can be.

Organizers aren’t trying to rewrite history. They’re trying to enlighten people. We certainly need it these days. Let’s give the N.C. Civil War History Center our support.