Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
This is big for Fayetteville and even bigger for North Carolina and the South.
The N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center is an ambitious project with a simple mission: To tell the full story of how we got into the Civil War, what happened during it, and what went on in the war’s aftermath. And now, its full funding may be on the way.
The museum will focus on a critical piece of American history that reverberates through our society to this day. And too often, it’s filtered through myth, family legend, various causes and sometimes bigotry and hatred. The history center’s goal is objective scholarship, researching the records, hearing the stories, applying intensive scholarship and serving as a resource that helps foster conversations based in accurate information. As we learn with every debate over Confederate monuments or related topics (like whether slaves were sold at the Market House in downtown Fayetteville), we too often have competing narratives that differ remarkably. A center charged with scrupulous research and high academic standards would be a welcome addition to those conversations.
The museum will stand on the site of the historic arsenal in Haymount, where some preliminary site work has already been done. The center so far has raised $23 million in cash and pledges, including $7.5 million each pledged by the Fayetteville and Cumberland County governments. It began as a nonprofit but it would be taken over by the state, which would staff and operate it as a North Carolina museum. It is intended to be a resource for the entire state and become a foremost national resource for Civil War scholarship.
We need that kind of scholarship, so we’re pleased to see that state Rep. John Szoka of Fayetteville has filed legislation that would bring $55 million in state funding to the project. The legislation calls for $10 million in state funding for the project in the upcoming fiscal year and an additional $45 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year. The state funding is the last piece needed to make the history center a reality.
Szoka, who has gathered considerable clout as he rises in Republican House leadership, has lined up some powerful co-sponsors, including House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis and House Majority Leader John Bell.
Museum leaders, including Fayetteville’s Mac Healy, who chairs the center’s board of directors, are working to build support in the state Senate.
The museum complex and its digital education system are expected to cost a total of $80 million. The operation would be housed in a 60,000-square-foot museum building.
“It’s not just the museum,” Szoka told a Fayetteville Observer reporter last week. “It’s an opportunity to look at an era of history where a lot of our current race issues originated, and to get a historical perspective on it. If you don’t understand the past, you can’t understand the present.”
We wish more of our lawmakers understood that, and we’re grateful that Szoka does.
Having the museum in Fayetteville will be a privilege and an opportunity. The museum is likely to draw Civil War scholars from across the country and assemble illuminating research about the war and its aftermath. It’s especially helpful that the museum will also study the Reconstruction period, where the groundwork was laid for many of the racial problems we see in our society today. Better understanding what happened in the years after the war will help all of us to better deal with issues of racism and discrimination in the 21st century.
We have long supported the creation of the museum and we’re pleased to see state funding efforts advance. We hope our full legislative delegation — and both the House and Senate — will give this measure the support it deserves.