Our Opinion: Civil War center will help our state understand history

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Shakespeare first posed the question more than 400 years ago, and everyone from philosophers to spin doctors has been repeating it ever since: What’s in a name?

While it’s true that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” there’s something to be said for precision when applying official titles to people, places and things. So the shoehorning of a 14-letter word into the formal name of a new interactive museum complex in Fayetteville has more to do with accuracy than marketing.

Advisers of the North Carolina Civil War History Center have changed the name of their project to the North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center.

It’s a mouthful of a name and a bit unwieldy, but it reflects the center’s focus on the period of history before, during and after the War Between the States, with a particular emphasis on the Civil War’s aftermath and its affect on the state of North Carolina in each of its 100 counties.

“North Carolina was defined by the Civil War, but you have to keep in mind that there were relatively few battles fought here, so that’s why our center is searching for stories of how families dealt with the hardships that came as a result of the Civil War,” Mac Healy, president of the center’s foundation board of directors, explained in a news release.

After last year’s deadly attack on a demonstrator in Charlottesville, Virginia, sparked a roiling national debate over public statues of Confederate generals, the name change also highlights the fact that this historical center is dedicated to a sober examination of the war and won’t serve as a monument to the South’s mythic Lost Cause of secession.

“All of us who have been involved with this project have known that this has not been and will not be a memorial to or a celebration of the Confederacy,” Healy said. “It’s about the time before, during and after the Civil War. It’s about what happened to North Carolina — all of North Carolina — as a result of the Civil War.”

No, the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center isn’t about lionizing General Lee. It also isn’t about making Tar Heels feel guilty for the side on which their forbears fought. As befitting a serious historical project, the center will offer a balanced and nuanced view.

Organizers wrote that the center “is taking an evenhanded approach to the state’s Civil War experience precisely because no one agreed on it then, and no one agrees on it today.”

North Carolina was the last Southern state to secede from the Union, formalizing its resolution on May 20, 1861.

The center will serve a dual purpose — teaching the lessons of history to our progeny and serving as a hub for economic development and tourism. Fayetteville’s location along Interstate 95 makes it a natural stop on the Civil War battlefield tours that draw tens of thousands of history buffs to the Southeast and mid-Atlantic each year.

History professors from the University of North Carolina System are compiling peer-reviewed research for the center that will also serve as Civil War history curriculum for schoolchildren from Manteo to Murphy. Curators are also recording oral histories of those whose ancestors had ties to the war and Reconstruction period.

If you’ve ever heard the StoryCorps segments on National Public Radio, you know how illuminating it can be to hear events retold by those who have experienced them. In this case, the great-great grandchildren of soldiers, slaves, commanders, legislators and ordinary townspeople will share oral histories that have been passed down through the years.

The North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center will include a 60,000 square-foot main building with adjacent exhibit space that will be built on the site of the current Museum of the Cape Fear. The now-regional museum will become a statewide destination for the study of Civil War history.

Planners have raised about $27 million of the $65 million project cost, including $5 million from the state, $7.5 million each from Cumberland County and the city of Fayetteville and $7 million in private commitments.

With some $38 million in funding left to secure, the history center faces a long and uncertain road. This worthy project to tell the stories of the Civil War and Reconstruction in North Carolina is in need of further funding from both public and private sources.

We urge state lawmakers, charitable foundations and individual donors to join forces and make this first-in-the-nation concept a reality to promote knowledge and understanding of Tar Heel history.