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History center aims to teach whole history of Civil War South

silent sam unaffiliated voters

Silent Sam, a controversial monument on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, creates a divide between unaffiliated voters and those who have strong opinions about the decisions regarding this statue. 

The North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center launched a new project that aims to create a clear picture of what life was like in the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.

The center wants to teach children about culture, law, politics, freedom and women during the Civil War and Reconstruction through the 100 stories that will be recorded from the state's 100 counties.

“The idea is to build a mosaic of what life was like in North Carolina before, during and after the Civil War from the people who lived it,” according to a press release from the center.

Harry Watson, a professor of Southern culture at UNC, said knowledge about the South's history is especially important in light of the discussions over Silent Sam.

“I think the Silent Sam controversy is a perfect example of how we are still struggling with the legacy of the Civil War and trying to learn its lessons,” Watson said.

William Barney, a history professor at UNC, hopes this project will enable children to understand the Civil War and Reconstruction from multiple angles to give them multiple perspectives of the story. 

“Hopefully it will acquaint an upcoming generation with their history," Barney said. "Start to give them a sense as to how to separate what we would like to think our history should have been from what it, in fact, was.” 

Malinda Maynor Lowery, director of the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC, said this part of history is important to discuss because it solidified core values of what it means to be a US citizen.

“The Civil War and Reconstruction was an absolute defining moment in American democracy," Lowery said. "The war fought over the enslavement of a tremendous number of Americans and the 14th, 15th and 16th amendments that were passed in the aftermath of the war were the kind of transformational definitions of what it means to be an American.” 

Watson also believes the Civil War established new ideals for American citizens.

“It’s always important," Watson said. "The Civil War and Reconstruction are pivotal eras in American history, marking the difference between slavery and freedom and marking a moment in which American democracy tried to reinvent itself as a place with greater equality." 

Barney recognizes parallels between the discussions happening now and the arguments that occurred more than 150 years ago.

“All the points raised in the Silent Sam controversy, pro and con, were aired and debated and fought over during the war and Reconstruction," Barney said. "So again, the past is hardly the past." 

To create a full history if the South that can be absorbed by school-aged children, the history center is recording the 100 stories to share digitally. 

“When people start to really grapple with those experiences, it changes the way you think about how government represents us," Lowery said. "And also what we share as members of the same state, and when that kind of information is taught, it really has the potential to shift North Carolinian’s attitudes towards civil engagement and why belonging to a democracy is important.”

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