NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

July 9, 2013

What New England's talking about

Excerpts from editorials of other New England newspapers:

Observing the centennial anniversary of the Civil War in the early 1960s was a national fixation, but a central element of the story, slavery, and the role of blacks as soldiers was minimized in the many official observances. July 1 marked the 150th anniversary of the second day of the war’s greatest battle, at Gettysburg, and despite the crowds gathered at the battlefield in Pennsylvania and the space devoted to the subject on the front page the war’s sesquicentennial is far from the forefront of popular thinking.

Maybe we’ll get it right for the 200th anniversary.

The Civil War raged from 1861 to 1865, and there is little question that it remains the most important event in American history, ending the unconscionable practice of slavery and redefining a collection of 50 states as a single nation, first, foremost and enduring.

But the incompleteness of this transformational event was exposed when the centennial came around, as the historian David Blight illustrated in his 2011 book, “American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era.”

It was a time, Blight observed, when Martin Luther King Jr. would stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and proclaim, “One hundred years later, the Negro still is not free” while the Virginia Civil War Commission would declare just as firmly, if less memorably, that “the Centennial is no time for finding fault or placing blame or fighting the issues all over again.”

Today that has changed. When New Hampshire filmmaker Ken Burns presented the history of the war in his acclaimed 1990 public television series, he put slavery at the heart of the story. In his new popular history, “Gettysburg: The Last Invasion,” the historian Allen Guelzo writes not just of the white soldiers engaged in what was a cataclysmic three-day battle, but of the free blacks living in and around Gettysburg who, if they were unfortunate enough to encounter rebel troops, were swept back into slavery.

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