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CoastLine: Philip Gerard on why Civil War issues on race and civil rights are the seat of today's Great National Divide

150th_Gettysburg_Reenactment_2013_(9181387706).jpg
S. Pakhrin / Creative Commons
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the 150th Gettysburg Anniversary National Civil War Battle Reenactment

Author Philip Gerard contends the incorrect and incomplete narrative surrounding the Civil War perpetuates the great partisan divide. Once the gunfire ended and North Carolina rejoined the Union, questions about civil rights and race should have been settled. But they weren’t. The battle still rages. How to move towards a more perfect union? Education, he says, is key.

The Civil War and Reconstruction eras are the most transformative periods in North Carolina’s history. That’s according to a new history center that has broken ground on its site in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

It’s been a controversial project, with some people – erroneously -- fearing it will become a memorial to the Lost Cause, the Confederacy. Others ask why historians can’t tell North Carolina’s story through existing museums or public schools -- decrying the $80 million contribution from the state legislature.

But according to Board Member Philip Gerard, existing museums that address the Civil War are notoriously problematic and public school teachers say they don’t know how to teach civil war history. They fear some verbal misstep – arousing partisan anger in parents and putting their jobs at risk.

Governor Jim Hunt, the longest-serving Governor in North Carolina history and a Democrat along with Governor Jim Martin, a popular Republican and the only one from his party to serve two terms, are honorary chairs. Former University of North Carolina Wilmington Chancellor Jim Leutze co-chairs the advisory committee. It’s a bipartisan effort that is, according to Philip Gerard, light on artifacts and heavy on education, with Black and white historians vetting the narrative. It is expected to become part of the K – 12 curriculum through the state’s Department of Public Instruction.

Why does this matter?

Philip Gerard contends the incorrect and incomplete narrative surrounding the Civil War and its aftermath has contributed to the great partisan divide, that the unresolved issues from the Civil War are what divide the nation today, and that there are ways to move toward a more perfect union. Education is a key component of the solution. The war, he says, was a war over the soul of North Carolina. Once the gunfire ended and the state came back into the Union, questions about civil rights and race should have been settled. But they weren’t. The battle still rages.

Philip Gerard has written fourteen books, is a professor of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, he is co-editor of the literary journal, Chautauqua, and he is the recipient of the North Carolina Award for contribution in Literature.

He is a current member of the Board of Directors of The North Carolina Civil War and Reconstruction Historical Center.

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NC Civil War and Reconstruction Historical Center
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At the site of the new NC Civil War and Reconstruction Historical Center, this building is known as the Arsenal House. It is a surviving structure associated with the Fayetteville Arsenal. It survived the explosions, battering rams, and fires of the 1st Michigan Engineers that destroyed the rest of the facility from March 12 – 14, 1865.

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.