Friday, April 27, 2007

Difference of opinion

We just got back from a vacation that mostly took us through Virginia. Appomattox was a thrill, Jamestown was fascinating, Williamsburg was interesting, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel was long. And it was all framed by the coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre, which dominated the news coverage for the week.

There was a lesson to be had in perspective during the trip. In Richmond, we visited Hollywood Cemetery, which has the graves of two Presidents (Monroe and Tyler), a Confederate President, and Generals Pickett and Stuart. Then we went to the Confederate White House and the Museum of the Confederacy.

Here's the important part. During those walks and tours, I really felt like a Northerner. And that's not something that happens all the time.

In the North, the Civil War is said to be a heroic struggle in which the North ended slavery by beating up on those stubborn rebels. In the South, though, history obviously had a different slant when it was taught in the years immediately following the war. There, the War Between the States was all about states' rights. (Extremists probably considered it a intramural dispute over labor costs in the textile industry.)

In the cemetery, Jefferson Davis has portrayed as a defender of the Constitution in his large family plot, while Monroe and Tyler are crammed together with some others in a small circle. Tributes to Southern generals are everywhere. Every town seems to have a tribute to a Confederate hero.

The most haunting of the historical pieces, however, came in the museum. There was an article written by a Southerner in 1865, saying that while the North may have won the war, but it's up to the South to win the peace. Considering that life for African Americans in the South was only marginally better once Reconstruction ended through at least 1955 and in some ways several more years, it's easy to wonder if that critic was right.

Sometimes traveling can make you at least see another side of the story when you aren't expecting it.