NPR logo Civil War Anniversary Stirs Up Debate On The War's Meaning

Civil War Anniversary Stirs Up Debate On The War's Meaning

The 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War is nearly upon us and the battle over how to remember this traumatic struggle is still fresh in the air.

The New York Times is running a piece today that captures both the voice of those who say secession by the Southern states was all about slavery and those who want to view it through the prism of "states' rights" politics.

The article quotes Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina N.A.A.C.P, saying that "states' rights" in the context of the Civil War was about one thing only:

“They are really talking about their idea of one right — to buy and sell human beings.”

That's not the view, however, of people like Jeff Antley, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Confederate Heritage Trust, who the NYT quotes saying:

“But defending the South’s right to secede, the soldiers’ right to defend their homes and the right to self-government doesn’t mean your arguments are without weight because of slavery.”

The Washington Post has taken on the anniversary of the "War Between the States" with a blog called A House Divided. Right now they have a number of contributors giving their suggestions for the best current reading on the war.

Brent Glass, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, suggests reading This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, by Drew Gilpin Faust and The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, by Eric Foner.

From my own bookshelf, I'll suggest the 1941 memoir of journalist and South Carolina native Ben Robertson. Red Hills and Cotton is a complex love letter to Upcountry South Carolina from a globe-trotting journalist who clearly saw the strengths and faults of his state, including its relationship with the Civil War and issues surrounding race.