You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers…
Q.We don’t like the name
A: Change it. The N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center was chosen by the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center Foundation to refer to the proposed facility and programs that will be located in Arsenal Park in Fayetteville. The name was changed once to include the word “Reconstruction.”
Once the Center is completed, it will be owned and operated by the NC Department of Cultural Resources, just like the NC Zoo and the NC Aquarium, as well as the NC Museum of History, of which the Center will be a part. It will be up to the state to name the facility it owns. We certainly have no problem with any group approaching us or the state to make its concerns known as to the name.
Q: The state should be spending money for more urgent needs in Fayetteville.
A: The Center is a statewide project. Local needs are funded through a separate process, called local bills. Local leaders across North Carolina identify local needs in their communities and approach their local legislative delegations to push them through and get them funded.
Q: You are not listening to us.
A: That’s not true. We have always been willing to engage with North Carolinians of all ages, races, creeds, religious beliefs and political persuasions. That’s why we have gathered stories from all to tell the story of the time before, during and after the Civil War. We’re also willing to meet with those who support us and those who oppose us, which we have done each time we have been requested to do so. We’ve also been willing to address any concerns that anyone has with us.
Q: Confederate statues will be placed at the Center, as the result of a back-room deal.
A: That’s untrue. We have never agreed, in secret or in the open, to accept Confederate monuments. We specifically got that request and we turned it down. This is not a Confederate museum.
Q: You have ignored local history.
A: That’s untrue. We have brought to light such details as the 25,000 freed slaves who accompanied Sherman to Fayetteville; we have told of how the Union Army took them to Wilmington where they built a successful middle class; and we have told of how a coup destroyed their community. We have also presented evidence of Cumberland County and Cape Fear Region freed slaves who joined the Union Army and we have worked to find their descendants in this area today.
Q: You have ignored the African American community.
A: That’s untrue. We have presented a number of programs of interest to African Americans, including town halls at Fayetteville State University, speeches by the late Hari Jones and by Adrienne Israel, a civil rights activist and historian who is expert in the history of the Underground Railroad in Greensboro. Along those same lines, we have worked closely with historians and administrators at Fayetteville State University. For the center itself, we are working with Dr. Spencer Crew, who was the first African American director of the Smithsonian Museum of American History and is currently the interim director of the new African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington; Dr. David Blight, Yale professor who just won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Frederick Douglass; Victor Vines, who was on the team that designed the African American museum in Washington; and Jerry Eisterhold, who designed the exhibits for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro and the African American Museum in Philadelphia.
Q: African Americans have had no voice in this process.
A: That’s untrue. It is true that the City of Fayetteville gave you no voice in the choice of the Market House, where slaves were sold, being a part of the Fayetteville City Seal. But you have been given a voice in the direction of the Center. And the Center has already begun telling your stories. There is something else to consider. The Center will be a solid addition to those wanting to learn about the history of African Americans in North Carolina.
The Center will tell about the time before, during and after the Civil War. The International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro is the location of the Woolworth’s lunch counter in which four NC A&T State University students effectively launched the sit-in movement in 1960. Their actions – and subsequent sit-ins – galvanized the Civil Rights Movement.
Between the two institutions, an interested student would have the opportunity to learn about the history of African Americans in North Carolina from the beginnings of our country through to the present.
In addition, the fundraiser, the architect and the exhibit designer, have been involved in both the Center in Greensboro and the Center in Fayetteville.
Q: The Center should be strictly about Fayetteville.
A: No. The Center will include the history that physically surrounds it in Arsenal Park, but it bears noting that it’s looking at the Civil War from the lens that is the entire State of North Carolina and it must include the entire state. All three are (or in the case of the Center, will be) owned by the NC Department of Cultural Resources.
Q: You say that the Center will look at all sides but that will change in the future, to support the Confederacy.
A: That’s untrue. There is no political support in the state of North Carolina for this possibility. In a rare display of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans alike support the idea of an educational institution that will examine the effect of the Civil War on the entire state and assist schoolchildren and their teachers in learning about its history. It is a certainty that neither party could withstand the political fallout if they were to take such a position.
Q: This museum is taking one side over another.
A: No, it’s not. The first meeting to plan the Center more than a decade ago made it clear that it would not take sides. To begin, it’s not a museum that collects artifacts, it’s a Center that collects history and ideas and functions as an educational institution. It will have lessons from which every North Carolinian, no matter what their race, gender or economic circumstances, can gain value.
Q: Fayetteville got the museum after every other city in North Carolina turned it down.
A: That’s untrue. The state most assuredly did not come up with the idea and offer it to cities across North Carolina, for them to accept or reject as they chose. This was a local effort in Fayetteville, which began more than a decade ago with the idea that a local historic site could be transformed into a statewide museum of the future; where it could gather ideas about the defining moment in North Carolina history; use it to help K-12 schoolteachers and students from across the state; and make all of it available online. At the same time, such a center would be an economic development engine that would bring jobs and millions in investments.
Q: Why bring up the past?
A: North Carolina in the Civil War was sharply divided. A century and a half later, North Carolina is still sharply divided. The idea is that the Civil War affected North Carolina more than any other event in its history, similar to the way that the Revolutionary War affected Massachusetts. Examining what led to those divisions and how the state and its citizens were affected by the war and its aftermath can provide us a context with which we can examine today’s challenges. Our theme has consistently been: Tell us your story, so that we may learn from you and so that we can see how your story fits into the overall history, as written by peer-reviewed academic experts. We are not here to punish anyone. We are here to hear all points of view.
Q: This museum will attract white supremacists.
A: No. This will be a state-owned educational institution with the American and North Carolina flags flying out front. Previous demonstrations have centered on the dispute over Confederate monuments. There won’t be any here.
White supremacists have indeed carried out violence in many places, including a street in Charlottesville, a church in Charleston and finally, a street near downtown Fayetteville. Refusing to build an educational institution on account of a threat, either spoken or unspoken, means that those who stand to gain the most from the threat – in this case, white supremacists, win.
That concerns us and that’s why we are doing something about it.
The history of the Civil War, as written and taught in North Carolina for generations, is far from accurate.
It reflects an inaccurate narrative from the Confederate States of America that the Civil War was about states’ rights and was not about slavery. Historians say that version was used to try to curry favor with France and Great Britain, both of which had banned slavery.
Saying outright that the Civil War was about slavery would have meant that neither country would have given any support, diplomatic or otherwise, to the Confederacy.
That version has been accepted for so long that it is believed and defended among many, sometimes in classrooms in public schools, which is one of the main things the Center will address. It’s not helpful – and made more complicated – that our present political climate has emboldened many to speak out without fear of reprisal.
But the good news is that education is now and has always been the sworn enemy of ignorance. The effect of North Carolinians meeting each other, in these times, and learning that we have a lot more in common than we have apart is how progress is made. In the future, such discussions will, over time, result in positive change.
The Civil War and Reconstruction were defining moments in North Carolina history. We need to learn about it, just as we need to learn about all history. It is absolutely true that people who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. We would submit that people who learn what was in the past are in a position of making improvements for the future.
The point of the Center is not to be critical of people today, not to assume that a person is wrong or deserving of ridicule or punishment, but it is to disseminate information about the true history, as written by academics; to discuss differences between ourselves, to come to a common understanding about who we were, who we are, and who we should be, and through that, to build a more perfect Union.