The Rapidian

American Civil War Museum CEO highlights importance of understanding history

Christy S. Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia spoke at Grand Valley as part of MLK week.
 Christy S. Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia speaks a GVSU as part if MLK week

Christy S. Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia speaks a GVSU as part if MLK week /John Rothwell

 Christy S. Coleman responds with the audience during Q&A

Christy S. Coleman responds with the audience during Q&A /John Rothwell

 Christy S. Coleman poses for a photo with John Crowley and residents of the Gerald Ford Job Corps

Christy S. Coleman poses for a photo with John Crowley and residents of the Gerald Ford Job Corps /John Rothwell

Grand Valley State University’s Loosemore Auditorium on the Pew campus in downtown Grand Rapids was filled with over 200 people on Tuesday evening, January 16th. Christy S. Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia gave an emphatic presentation titled “How Shall We Remember”, her insights into modern day questions about history, identity, and democracy of the American Civil War. Prior to her position in Richmond she headed the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

Starting the lecture Coleman told the audience “you cannot have meaningful conversation if you cannot get the history right.” Calling the American Civil War perhaps the most contested period in American history, Coleman said that the meaning of the war differed vastly depending on who you were speaking to.

Coleman alluded that the Civil War was America’s trauma unlike any we have seen before or since, noting there were two folds to the upheaval. First, the loss of over 750,000 soldiers, then the second trauma being at the time there was over two hundred years of slavery on the American psyche along with the establishment of white supremacy.

“This war was the clash of our ideals as a nation,” Coleman said, “Was it really going to be the place that all men are created equal?” 

Coleman went on to explain more about the symbols of flags and monuments that are direct results of the war, raising the question of whether the statues and monuments built in the South are really a remembrance or hate.  

“Hearing an African American woman talking about the Civil War was righteous,” said John Crowley, Director of Resident Living at the Gerald R Ford Job Corps in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I got extremely excited by her passion, depth and breadth of the knowledge of the Civil War.”

At the conclusion of the presentation Coleman left the audience with a provocative thought. “The deeper we dig, the more we understand," and in the end she warned to beware of half-truths, as “you will get half of the story wrong.”

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