On Monday, January 29, WCDS hosted a discussion (via video chat) with Dr. Peter Carmichael, the Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. As part of the ongoing month of Emancipation-themed events at the school, Dr. Carmichael answered questions from students and History Teacher Joe Cook (a Gettysburg College alumnus) about American slavery and the Civil War.
There was no sugar-coating the hard truths of the past in the discussion (Mr. Cook points out that a common statement by his former professor is that "We need to get past the bedtime stories we tell ourselves about history"). Dr. Carmichael became particularly animated in discussing the tragic events at the Crater (Petersburg, VA) and Fort Pillow (Tennessee), where United States Colored Troops were massacred by Confederates in 1864. He also advised all people to go and look at the graphic images of lynchings from the early Twentieth Century, comparing the atmosphere of those horrific incidents to a sporting event. When several students asked what Professor Carmichael’s opinion was about the Confederate monuments controversy, he gave a nuanced response suggesting that context is especially important when making determinations, but also railing against the hyper-focus of the public on the monuments issue while much more serious issues of racial discrimination continue to plague the nation (he pointed repeatedly to housing discrimination, poverty, and mass incarceration).
The talk concluded with Dr. Carmichael urging a visit to Gettysburg by the students, where they could walk in the footsteps of Lincoln, Lee, and others—while also tracking down the locations of famed battlefield photographs by Matthew Brady and other pioneers in the history of photography and photojournalism. He also congratulated the students on attending such an outstanding school, based on everything he has heard from his former student, Mr. Cook. Many of the students asked probing and profound historical questions, and Dr. Carmichael singled out one ninth grader to commend her for “thinking like a historian.”
This event was part of a month-long focus on Emancipation and Its Legacies, organized by Mr. Cook to coincide with the presence of a traveling exhibition from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Other events on the schedule include a presentation for students on February 7 by the director of the United States Colored Troops Living History Association, and a pair of open-to-the-public History vs. Hollywood Movie events on February 12 and 13 (both at 3 PM). Those interested in viewing the traveling exhibition can come to Mr. Cook’s room (Room 304) Tuesday through Thursday at 3 PM, in order to view an introductory video and then proceed to the actual exhibition in the Performing Arts Room.