The Thursday night plenary, April 7, 6 pm at the Crowne Plaza's Grand Ballroom, will be an important forum for public historians to address the beginning of the national Civil War Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary). It comes early in the conference, but do your best to attend and participate.
The speakers represent a wide diversity of experiences, from Dwight Pitcaithley's tenure as NPS Historian (and his push for NPS to tell a broader story of the Civil War era) to Connie Lester's involvement as a journal editor in Florida and her own research on the southern writer Lucy Virginia French, who experienced the twin realities of homefront and emancipation in occupied Tennessee. Between Dwight and Connie, we have two additional voices, Tim Smith, who has written extensively on the process of preservation at the battlefield parks of the Civil War's "western theater," and Mike Allen, who is addressing perhaps the hottest controversial of this year, at how NPS and locals work together to launch the 150th anniversary of the "First Shots" and Fort Sumter, which took place almost 150 years to the day of his remarks at the plenary. I learned of Mike and became involved with his work six years ago, not through the Civil War but through discussions and workshops at South Carolina's Penn Center--one of the nation's most important Reconstruction/Civil Rights landscapes--to launch the process to create a Gullah Geeche National Heritage Corridor. So, we offer traditional voices and new voices to the national discussion on the Civil War 150th and its meaning today.
This event is designed to generate discussion and response; as the moderator I hope to divide the time roughly equal between the panel and the audience. Certainly as the co-chair of the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and the director of the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, I find myself in the middle of plans and events in the Upper South, although most NCPH members will recall me as the guy who developed the Rural African American Church Project in Tennessee, the "Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham" National Register multiple property nomination, the "U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study in Macon County, AL" National Register MPN, and the forthcoming "Civil Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama" National Register MPN. In Tennessee we try to link the war to Reconstruction and onto legacies, which can range to Civil War monuments, parks, and the 20th century Civil Rights Movement. There is much to cover in all of the conference sessions dealing with the Civil War era, and public historians have much to add and offer. If you have questions you would like to post for either the moderator or the speakers, please respond, or better yet, attend the plenary.