Notable People and Topics in Our History . . .
The North Carolina Confederate Centennial Commission, July 1960-June 1965
n the eve of the centennial of the American Civil War, the federal government prepared to commemorate the nation's most tragic and defining event. In honoring both sides without fanning the flames of "bitterness and hatred engendered by the conflict a century ago," the United States Civil War Centennial Commission sought to foster "a new study of American patriotism." Following the actions of Virginia and other states, North Carolina established its own commission to represent the Tar Heel State in the celebration. The North Carolina Confederate Centennial Commission assembled an ambitious agenda, placing emphasis on research and publication. The state, home to a number of prominent war-related sites, held untapped potential for increased tourism. A nonprofit corporation was formed to raise money, and county subcommittees planned local events throughout the state. The General Assembly appropriated additional funds for commemorative efforts and passed a resolution restricting use of the Confederate flag to "dignified occasions."
Working closely with the Department of Archives and History, the commission launched or assisted with a number of landmark endeavors that to this day promote research and tourism in North Carolina. These projects included: development of historic sites; salvage work at underwater archaeological sites; erection of highway historical markers for all of the state's notable Civil War locations; and publication of a multivolume roster of North Carolina's Civil War soldiers (the latter an exhaustive and highly acclaimed series still in the process of completion). Extending the commission's educational reach, the North Carolina Museum of History's "Mobile Museum of History" toured the state with updated exhibits highlighting North Carolina's wartime experiences. In 1965, capping off four years of research and development, commemorative events were held at Fort Fisher, Bentonville Battleground, and Bennett Place State Historic Siteseach marking pivotal events in the final months of the war in North Carolina. In April of that year Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey spoke at a "Centennial of National Unity" program at Bennett Place, site of the war's largest troop surrender. The event was covered on national television, a highlight of the state commission's tenure.
As the nationwide observance drew to a close, the national commission awarded North Carolina the Bronze Medallion, which recognized meritorious participation. In a presentation in Raleigh by director James I. Robertson, the Tar Heel State became the first in the nation to receive the recognition. The University of North Carolina Press received a separate medallion for excellence in publishing, making North Carolina the only state with two recipients of the honor. The medal was inscribed with the phrases "Let us have peace" and "consciousness of duty faithfully performed."
As the state commission disbanded, executive secretary Norman Larson appealed for a lasting remembrance: "Let us hope that with the end of the centennial our interest in this most exciting era in American history will not waver. Rather, let us use the centennial as a foundation on which to build a greater appreciation and understanding so that future generations will have complete and total knowledge of the American Civil War." Four decades removed from that foundation, the state's war-related sites and exhibits are among the most studied and visited historical attractions in North Carolina.
Mark Anderson Moore
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