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Brent Glass: How should the country mark the sesquicentennial?

By Brent Glass

Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

Glass

The Civil War Sesquicentennial is a time, of course, to remember and honor the sacrifice of more than 600,000 Americans -- North and South -- who died during this tragic conflict. It is also a time to explore the history of this period beyond the battlefields and to consider issues that have continued to shape life in America long after the end of the war in 1865. Few Americans realize, for example, that Congress passed major legislation during the war including the Homestead Act that provided for acquiring land; the Morrill Act that established the land-grant colleges; and the Pacific Railway Act that authorized the transcontinental railroad and telegraph from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean.

Other events are important to remember during this commemoration. The New York draft riots of July, 1863 were perhaps the greatest civil insurrection in American history aside from the Civil War itself resulting in at least 120 dead and 2,000 injured. This is also a time to consider the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) which Abraham Lincoln considered his greatest achievement.

Coincidentally, Americans will observe the Civil War Sesquicentennial at the same time that we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of many events associated with the Civil Rights Movement. At the National Museum of American History this year, we honored the Greensboro Four who led the sit-in protest at a Woolworth's lunch counter in 1960 and launched a major chapter in the movement for equal access to public facilities. Next year, we will recognize the impact of the Freedom Rides in changing the course of American history. We have a unique opportunity to understand the connection of these events to causes and consequences of the Civil War.

By Brent Glass  | November 15, 2010; 2:10 PM ET
Categories:  Views  | Tags:  Brent Glass  
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Next: Chandra Manning: How should the country mark the sesquicentennial?

Comments

Your pointing out that the rise of the Civil Rights movement in the South overlapped the Civil War Centennial raises fascinated questions. Just one thought, for example: perhaps the fact that 100 years had passed since the Civil War, and that many Southern communities were celebrating the idealized antebellum view of the Confederacy, confronted Southern African-Americans and other people with how short society still fell in racial equality?

Posted by: CherieOK | November 16, 2010 8:33 AM | Report abuse

Follow the history of the American Civil War as it unfolded, day by day, 150 years ago:

http://www.civilwar-online.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-American-Civil-War/127650407273823

Posted by: JCWilmore | November 17, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Very nice article Mr. Glass. The Civil War is such an intriguing moment in our past, so many Civil War buffs will ensure some great commemorative celebrations. I'd suggest to you, to other historians at your museum, and Civil War buffs everywhere to sample the US History SongBook at iTuns, specifically the songs, A House Divded, A Slavery Question, Reconstruction, and 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, to revisit this time through some original pop/rock music. You can also check out our website at http://www.historytunes.com for may accmpanying recources. I look forward to the upcoming commemorations and hope to get your museum to celebrate.

Posted by: historytunes | November 18, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

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