The reality that Fayetteville and the state of North Carolina will soon have a world-class history education facility nestled atop the city’s historic Arsenal Avenue is becoming more concrete as the civic organization behind the effort will hold its third and final ground-breaking ceremony on June 2.
A panel of Civil War & Reconstruction History Center Board members assembled on May 24 at Fayetteville Technical Community College’s Tony Rand Center to speak with members of the media about the Civil War & Reconstruction History Center, its purpose and curriculum and the upcoming ground-breaking.
Mac Healy, chairman of the Civil War & Reconstruction History Center committee, was flanked by Vice-Chairwoman Mary Lynn Bryan, a noted Fayetteville philanthropist who since 2006 has advocated for the center; Board Member and former Fayetteville State University Chancellor James Anderson, and Board Member Demetrius Haddock, a life-long educator, retired math teacher and education advocate.
The panel had much to say about the format and purpose of the center, which will serve not only the local community but the state. The center, while located in Fayetteville, will be a state-run facility. The representatives repeatedly spoke to the power of story and the importance of creating a dialogue centering around the difficult subjects of the civil war, enslavement and the post-civil war reconstruction.
Haddock, who was initially skeptical of the center’s curriculum, has since become a member of the board and assists in planning for the center. He has been focused on supporting the educational components, specifically concerning students in the 4th, 8th, and 11th grades studying North Carolina history under the state’s school curriculum. He explained at a recent meeting focused on curriculum at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington that many teachers were unaware of and cautious about how to present much of the difficult content that the center will focus on.
“Those concepts, especially enslavement and just the idea of people owning human beings and you know how do you have a conversation with students about that, and there are so many dimensions around that time period that people just kind of stay away from, especially the Reconstruction or afterwards," said Haddock.
Despite the committee’s efforts raising private funds, securing state and local money for the project, and, more importantly, educating the public about the project, there has been concern the center will be a museum honoring the Confederacy.
Anderson reiterated that the center would focus on the history before the Civil War and the Reconstruction era, which was often a difficult period for formerly enslaved people.
Anderson explained that the board of advisors and the board of directors working to build the center and its curriculum are both “replete with scholars.”
“The History Center is not a museum. I want to make that clear,” Anderson said. “It will use the power of storytelling and interactive technology to educate youth about that specific time in history,” he said. “Those who constantly demonize the proposed project are ignorant of the facts.”
Bryan invited anyone concerned about the center’s purpose to engage with the committee.
“Every time we have been challenged, if the people who challenge us will meet us, we are willing to sit down and talk about our plan and what we have in mind and why it is significant not just for our community but for our state,” Bryan said.
“The story we have to tell about this very, very difficult period in our history is a true story. It’s a story based on fact developed by a group of scholars known worldwide. They want to present an accurate picture, and so do we,” she said.
Bryan reiterated the museum’s purpose and asserted the center would not focus solely on the story of the Confederacy.
“It’s very disconcerting when we hear, for example, that we are going to develop a Confederate museum, which we have no intention whatsoever of doing. The flags that will fly, if flags fly in our history center, will be the state flag and the U.S Flag. We will have no statues or monuments.”
Bryan noted that an organization offered the committee money in the center’s early planning stages if it agreed to house all statewide Confederate statues at the center.
“We said no. We will get the money a different way,” Bryan said.
Healy explained the center would feature cutting-edge interactive storytelling, and Anderson elaborated on that concept focusing on the power of those stories.
“This is a history center. We are not going to be a collecting museum. We will have several artifacts in there, but only if they continue further telling the story,” Healy said.
“The history center will allow us not only to be interactive, as Mac [Healy] says but to tell a story; to use the power of stories that come from people who have a generational contact with all of this,” Anderson said. “The history center will allow us to make people feel emotionally connected.”
Anderson went on to relay an anecdote about seeing a Ku Klux Klan robe at the Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a story attached to this that people could really understand what the power of the Klan robe is?” Anderson said.
The narratives in the center’s curriculum will represent and belong to everyone in the state.
“The critical issue is this is going to tell the story of everybody located in the state of North Carolina during a certain designated period,” Bryan said.
The center’s goal is to collect 100 stories from each of 100 counties; while they have not yet achieved this, they are still actively collecting and vetting stories from North Carolinians.
According to Healy, the public does not want to go to a museum and read storyboards anymore. They want interactive museums.
“This is going to be that,” he said.
The “touch and feel” aspect of the center contributes to the overall costs of the project, explained Healy. In addition to the cutting-edge technology and content, nationwide increases in materials and supply chain issues have contributed to increasing costs.
Initially, the cost to build the center was estimated at approximately $65 million, but since has been estimated at about $80 million. Last year, the North Carolina General Assembly appropriated $60 million for the project. Before that, the committee raised money from private contributors and secured a commitment from the City of Fayetteville City Council and the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners for $7.5 million each.
According to Anderson, the center will help make Fayetteville a destination city.
Ralph Huff, a local philanthropist and former owner of H&H builders, a residential construction company, attended the news conference and echoed Anderson’s remark. Huff said Fayetteville could become a weekend destination where visitors spend several days walking from one venue to another. Huff referred to visitors walking to the proposed downtown Arts & Entertainment Center, Segra Stadium, the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, and, finally, atop Haymount Hill to the proposed History Center.
The committee expects the center to be an economic boon for Cumberland County. A study predating the building of Segra Stadium projects that the center will have an $18 million annual economic impact and secure about 200 jobs. Healy explained that this positive impact might be even higher with added amenities such as Segra Stadium, increasing the draw for visitors to downtown Fayetteville.
Healy described the center as a ”world-class one-of-its-kind history center located in Fayetteville for the state of North Carolina.”
Among those scheduled to participate in the third ground-breaking ceremony is Spencer Crew, Ph. D., emeritus director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Crew is among a half dozen history scholars that Anderson noted are associated with the center. The scholars are writing and designing a curriculum covering the years 1835 through the early 1900s for the history center.
Healy said the 11 a.m. ground-breaking ceremony marks the start of construction for the center’s main building. For additional information on the Civil War & Reconstruction History Center, its curriculum or the ground-breaking, visit www.nccivilwarcenter.org.