The meaning of Ft. Sumter

On the 150th anniversary of the Confederate shelling of Ft. Sumter in Charleston, SC, which began the Civil War, African-Americans must join the dialogue about the meaning of America’s most bloody conflict.
That dialogue must start in classrooms, where students have the opportunity to reimagine African-American history by learning of the active role that free and enslaved blacks undertook to bring the conflict about.
Our exhibition Gold Rush Abolitionists: the California Movement to Emancipation helps make the point that the Underground Railroad crossed the continent before the transcontinental railroad. In fact, the latter came about because of the former.
The Kinsey Collection, an extensive exhibition of artifacts and art from the past 300 years, is on display both in Washington, D.C. in the National Museum of American History through May and the San Francisco African-American Historical and Cultural Society through April 19.
Tonight, the National Geographic Channel presents the second night of Civil Warriors, a documentary about the Gibbons House, an Underground Railroad station.
It is also a good time to learn about the music of the Civil War. The song John Brown’s Body describes the deep passion felt for the firebrand whose raid on Harper’s Ferry is credited with sparking the conflict. To the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, it shares the same refrain “his truth is marching on.”
That generally has not been the case during 150 years of apologizing for slavery and the Confederate cause.
Tonight, we have the example of Confederate sympathizer Peter Burnett, first elected governor of California. His name is being removed from a school in San Francisco because the record of his opposition to the emanicipation movement is being brought to the light.
Yet, a number of states still include the Confederate flag as part of their current flags, giving recognition to what would fit the dictionary definition of traitorous activities.
African-Americans can not sit idly by for such nostalgia. For it has consequences in the current policy debate. Just as five black organizations founded in 1852 as Underground Railroad stations still exist today, there are threads of support for slavery that still endure.
Attempts to glamorize the Confederacy or downplay the role of slavery as the cause for the insurrection must be resisted with the primary source record.
A little used resource is the Black Civil War Memorial at 10th and U Sts. in Washington, D.C. The website actually lists all 250,000 blacks who served in the Union Army and Navy, a powerful rebuttal to anyone who suggests the blacks liked the pre-bellum conditions.
The National Archives has also released the pension records of those colored troops, being provided through Ancestry.com.
We fought for the freedom we now enjoy. Learning about it prepares us for the continuing battle, often against the same forces.

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