On March 28 a group of inspirational students from Selma, Alabama from the Random Acts of Theatre Company (RATCO) toured the Gettysburg Battlefield with CWI fellows and staff. Led by Dr. Peter Carmichael and Dr. Jill Titus, we endeavored to answer the difficult question of whether or not the Civil War was worth it. Many of us would answer this question with a resounding yes without realizing the extent to which the environment we were brought up in shaped this response. For the students of RATCO, who are growing up in a segregated community where the war of northern aggression is still taught in schools, “yes” is a much harder conclusion to reach.
The Rose Woods, made famous by the photos depicting dead Georgian soldiers lined up for burial, was the first location explored by the students. After a description of the assault the students were shown the graphic images and tasked with finding the exact site where the photos were taken. One student described this moment as the most moving for her, “Standing where they died and hearing about how they were buried made the war more real.”
The second stop, the Alabama memorial, was used to demonstrate the dichotomy of the remembrance of the Civil War. Dedicated in 1933, the statue depicts a female figure pointing an armed Confederate towards battle insinuating the need to continue the struggle. Furthermore, the soldier’s facial features resemble those of George Washington seemingly justifying the actions of the soldier and the war as intrinsically American, even righteous. It is this types of overt and subtle racism that the RATCO students work to overcome daily in Selma.
Lastly the students visited Little Round Top to get a commanding view of the battlefield. Awed by the vastness of the battlefield and the weight of the past, one member of RATCO explained to me the benefit of the tour, “I drive across the Edmund Pettus Bridge every day never thinking about what happened there. It’s easy to get complacent about history. This visit has made me remember and I don’t want to forget again.” She was moved by the battlefield to re-embrace history, a subject that Dr. Carmichael talked about on our way back to campus. The need for African-American’s to take back their roles in history and help reshape the remembrance of the Civil War as a fight to end slavery.
Returning to the question of was it worth it: the members of RATCO have shown me that it is not a matter of where you grow up. The abolishment of slavery is a direct result of the Civil War and the ramifications of its end were and are felt around the country. The ending of this evil institution and the freeing of millions of Americans was without doubt worth it. Moreover, I believe that these students from Selma Alabama are more familiar with the value of the Civil War as they continue to fight for equality as shown by the very existence of RATCO, but also, in the efforts to prevent the erecting of a statue to Nathan Bedford Forrest in Selma.