After several people recently lamented the lack of black people at Civil War events along with potential reasons why this is the case, Jimmy Price described an experience at the macro level that I have experienced on a micro level. Quite simply—black Americans, especially men, are just as interested in discussing the topic of war, especially the Civil War, like any other man.
We talk about grand schemes of incorporating the black experience and slavery into Civil War tours and events while hiding Confederate flags to make it somehow “their war too.” This is the “build it and they will come” mentality. Yet my experience with individuals is you just have to broach the topic. Pull out a map, a minie ball, and some photos, and then talk strategy and tactics. Tell a story. Watch how any adult male will become instantly fascinated, regardless of nationality or ethnicity.
I am not saying that you should ignore or hide race; I am just saying you do not necessarily have to lead with it. The topic of war is inherently fascinating to virtually all men, they just need the right person to introduce them to the topic. That person is you, Civil War buff.
In the course of dragging more than three dozen friends, family members, and coworkers to the battlefields over the past four years, I have been fortunate to bring along a variety of perspectives—Pakistani, Indian, Canadian, and Australian. With my black friends, the topic of the Civil War has led to battlefield tours, museum tours, one trip to the Grand Review of the USCT, and a continuous conversation about the war.
One coworker-turned-friend stays in touch even after I switched jobs. He likes to text me obscure Civil War facts, trying to trip me up. After one of his birthdays, he joked, “Who would have thought a white Texan would be giving me a copy of Frederick Douglass?”
Price is fortunate to talk to groups of black Americans about the USCT. However, the rest of us all know black people at work and in our neighborhoods. Approach them. Ask them, “Hey, have you ever been to <INSERT BATTLEFIELD>?” Forget their race for five minutes and talk to them about the Civil War as you would with anyone else. Show them your passion. Watch their eyes light up.
Yes, the Civil War deals with race and slavery. Yes, black people have traditionally avoided Civil War events and battlefields. But that does not have to remain the case and each of us can do on a micro level what Price is doing at the macro level.
Approach your friends and coworkers. Talk Civil War. The experience will be rewarding for you and them.