Yesterday’s venture was a trip to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which serves as both a historical resource and a testament to the efforts to combat slavery through the modern day. Located in Cincinnati, Ohio, the freedom center is a sobering reminder of how recent American slavery was and the extent to which it continues to permeate our society.
When my mom and I were standing in line to purchase museum tickets, one exhibit caught my eye: Confederate Memory: Symbolism, Controversy & Legacy. It discussed the pressing issue of disparate historical narratives of the same events and the resulting differences in representing and honoring what happened. Heritage vs. hate was the key point. Examples ranged from Confederate statues to recent White Supremacy rallies and modern hate groups. While reading a quote by the then-fledgling Confederate Vice President, I overheard a heated discussion between a father and daughter just ahead of me. They were arguing about whether or not the Civil War was about slavery. She asserted that slavery was the main conflict out of many points of contention, while he claimed that it was simply a state’s rights issue and slavery was irrelevant to the fight itself. I listened to their discussion as I read quotes that proved her point and he floundered to put up a verbal defense. His closing argument, paraphrased, was, “Well, sure, slavery was a small part of it, but it wasn’t why they fought. They fought for freedom.”
Textbooks change over the years as discoveries are made and biases shift. The young woman’s father likely learned a set of facts that were geared towards a classroom that wanted to believe their grandfathers and great grandfathers were good people who fought for liberty, not ownership of their fellow man. I suspect that she, like I, was lucky enough to grow up being taught that boiling down a conflict as massive as the Civil War to one issue is dangerous and misleading.
That overheard, partially eaves-dropped conversation bleeds into why I’m so glad we stopped at this museum. As much as it was a review of my history classes, it was also a chance to see how tides are shifting. Monuments are raised and flags are torn down. The question is how it will be remembered and how it will be taught.
P.S. Thank you to Mr. Lewison, Mr. Kenney, and Mr. Andrews for instilling my love of history and giving me the context to understand it.