LENA MITCHELL: African-Americans and the Civil War: ‘From Civil War to Civil Rights’

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

Why does the Civil War matter today?” is the leading and provocative question on an information brochure from the U.S. National Park Service.
Historians with the park service have distilled the answers in terms that make the story of the Civil War more accessible to everyone.
The same brochure that poses the question answers it as follows:
“The United States as we know it today is a result of the Civil War.
“The Civil War was fought over conflicting issues of liberty. The cost was high, but the war resolved many issues that divided the nation.
“The war confirmed the Union. Before 1861, people referred to ‘the United States are…’ Today we say ‘the United States is.’
“The war resolved the sovereign relationship between the federal government and individual states.
“The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in December 1865, prohibits slavery in all states and territories.
“The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in July 1868, extends citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, regardless of race; forbids any state to make or enforce laws that abridge the rights of citizens; and ensures due process and equal protection under the law for all citizens.
“The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in March 1870, guarantees the right to vote to all male citizens regardless of “race, color, or previous conditions of servitude.”
“Other issues remain unresolved. The debate continues, as it should in a democracy, until we meet the challenge of Abraham Lincoln’s new birth of freedom, and all citizens enjoy equal protection under the law.”
Through national heritage areas and national parks across the nation the National Park Service protects the cultural, historical and natural legacy of the United States.
While preserving the physical assets at these sites the National Park Service also does a magnificent job of interpreting the meaning of our national legacy through volumes of brochures.
From the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, which led to the Civil War battles that changed the face of Northeast Mississippi – the Battle of Corinth, the Battle of Iuka, the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads, the Battle of Harrisburg in Tupelo and others – National Park Service historians have provided context for the general public to understand not only what happened, but why.
Students studying history in Northeast Mississippi have outstanding resources near at hand: Shiloh National Military Park; Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center; Corinth Contraband Camp; Mississippi’s Final Stands Interpretive Center at Brice’s Crossroads; the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor’s Center in Tupelo; the University of Mississippi Civil War collections; Mississippi State University Civil War collections, and more.
However, even when unable to see the sites in person one can obtain brochures that hold a wealth of information.
During this Black History Month and as the nation continues its commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial – 150th Anniversary – two brochures from the National Park Service may help put the Civil War’s significance and reasons for commemorating it in perspective for African-Americans: “Civil War in the Southeast” and “Slavery: Cause and Catalyst of the Civil War.”
The “Civil War in the Southeast” brochure charts the path “from Civil War to civil rights,” and summarizes the journey as follows:
“What began as a war to preserve the Union became a war of emancipation and then evolved into a century-long struggle for civil rights.
“Prior to emancipation, many enslaved people sought freedom through the Underground Railroad and the establishment of settlements such as the Freedmen’s Colony commemorated at Fort Raleigh and the Corinth Contraband Camp memorial park, a part of Shiloh.
“These areas tell how a newly freed people took the first steps toward gaining equal rights. After the war, they built their own communities at places like Fazendeville (Louisiana) at Jean Lafitte and the Settlement at Cumberland Island (Georgia).
“Andrew Johnson (National Historic Site, Greeneville, Tenn.) presents the story of the issues facing the country during this difficult time of Reconstruction. Many newly found rights and hopes were dashed by Jim Crow laws and discrimination.
“The journey toward equality reached its climax in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s but is not yet complete today.”
Lena Mitchell is a Daily Journal reporter. Contact her at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.