Civil War History: A Call to Action

Civil War History: A Call to Action

This spring and summer have seen renewed protests against monuments and memorials to the Confederacy and its leaders. We believe historians can play an important role in the ongoing, broad-based conversation about the history and memory of the Civil War Era. Historians bring a commitment to truth-telling and to teaching — to deepening historical knowledge about slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the use of public propaganda in the late 19th and 20th centuries to hide and distort the past.

We are calling on historians to engage in a nationwide, group demonstration of good history at national parks, state parks, and other public sites from 12 to 2 p.m.  EDT on Saturday, September 26. Building on the work of Scott Hancock and others at Gettysburg on July 4 of this year, we ask historians to select a site where the history of slavery, emancipation, and Reconstruction is being concealed or neglected. We ask you to investigate problems with representations of the Confederacy at that site and any absences of the history of slavery and African Americans there. And we encourage you to invite friends (including non-historians) with connections to the communities around that site and to prepare a signboard or other permitted material that uses historical arguments and evidence to counter that misinformation.

We urge historians and community members to visit these sites simultaneously on Sept. 26, the weekend after the anniversary of the issuance of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, to provide an accurate recounting of the history of slavery, the Civil War, and the postwar struggle for Black rights. Between now and Sept. 26, we will provide advice on to turn this goal into practice: how to develop and present evidence in a way that reaches a public audience that may be skeptical of historical argument; how to convey history while while staying within park rules; how to respond to potentially belligerent people in a way that deescalates or avoids conflict; and how to sustain social distancing and other precautions against Covid-19. In a webinar on September 9 and in follow-up posts, we will provide concrete guidance on these and other issues. The goal: to emancipate our battlefields and other public spaces from a biased history that has sanitized and glorified the Confederacy’s fight to keep four million African Americans enslaved.

To express interest and get more information, use this Google form.

To register for a September 9 webinar with Scott, Greg, and Kate about the day of action, please click here.

Relevant Muster posts:

Scott Hancock’s Fear of a Black Planet (Part 2)

Gettysburg and July 4, 2020: Four Historians Respond

Ryan Semmes’s William Robbins, William C. Oates, and Confederate Monuments at Gettysburg

LeeAnna Keith’s Commemorating the NYC Draft Riots: A Call to Action in the Classroom

Julie Mujic’s Civil War Day of Action: Leading a Reading Group

Hilary Green’s Civil War Day of Action: Filling Historical Silences

Adrienne Petty, Extending the Civil War Day of Action

Event hashtag: #wewantmorehistory

Kate Masur and Greg Downs

Kate Masur is an associate professor at Northwestern University, specializing in the history of the nineteenth-century United States, focusing on how Americans grappled with questions of race and equality after the abolition of slavery. Greg Downs, who studies U.S. political and cultural history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is a professor of history at University of California--Davis. Together they edited an essay collection on the Civil War titled The World the Civil War Made (North Carolina, 2015), and they currently co-edit The Journal of the Civil War Era.

34 Replies to “Civil War History: A Call to Action”

  1. Splendid idea. My book, LIES ACROSS AMERICA, lists 22 bad sites relating to the Civil War, though its new edition (2019) tells how half of them have been getting toppled or otherwise fixed up. This initiative will widen an important ongoing process. I’m joining. I hope everyone does!

    1. This is a great idea. Has anyone from the South ever apologized for enslaving and all the rest as the foundation of their lovely lifestyle? Let me know if someone has

  2. Please keep us informed of planned events so we can spread the word among Licensed Battlefield Guides when these events are taking place.

  3. Thank you all! This is so needed. And for every monument, memorial, and historical site in our country. I look forward to standing with you at one of them.

  4. Read an article about you in today’s NY Times (9/28). Just wanted to say “Well done.” (I’m webspinner for the Civil Rights Movement Archive and our archive tries to preserve an accurate history of our movement.)

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