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Public feedback sought for planning of N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center

Organizers reaching out to Black community, board chairman says

A rendering by exhibit designer Gerard Eisterhold's firm shows possible concepts for the proposed N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center. More are available at eisterhold.com/projects/north-carolina-civil-war-and-reconstruction-history-center.
A rendering by exhibit designer Gerard Eisterhold's firm shows possible concepts for the proposed N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center. More are available at eisterhold.com/projects/north-carolina-civil-war-and-reconstruction-history-center.
Esterhold Associates

Editor’s note: There will be one outreach meeting at Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. This story has been corrected to reflect that change.

Organizers who plan to build a Civil War history center in Fayetteville are looking for public input — in particular, feedback from the city’s African American community.

Leaders of the effort to bring the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center to the Historic Haymount District have scheduled an outreach meeting at a historically Black church on Murchison Road.

Organizers said they will outline plans that historians and officials with the state Department of Cultural Resources have prepared for the facility.

The presentation is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 11 at Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church, 1217 Murchison Road. The church is across the street from the campus of Fayetteville State University.

Exhibit designers and historians will be present at the session. Information about the center will be displayed at Mount Sinai during the week of Oct. 10-14. 

The following week, history center representatives will gather input from the public during the day in the fellowship hall of Highland Presbyterian Church, 111 Highland Ave. Highland has a historically white congregation.

Information on the center will be displayed at Highland from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 17-21.

Some critics of the planned history center have questioned whether it is appropriate to spend millions on a project focused on the Civil War, which has been a divisive topic particularly in today’s combative political climate.

The projected cost is a total of $80 million, with the state legislature providing $60 million in its latest budget and the city of Fayetteville and Cumberland County each pledging $7.5 million. Part of the city’s contribution would be land. The center would be built on the grounds of the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex off Arsenal Avenue.

Organizers say the history center will focus on historical accuracy and education to tell the story of the Civil War, emancipation, and the Reconstruction era.

They say they are seeking input in writing about “what’s been planned so far,” according to a news release.

“Responses can be anonymous,” the news release said. “Public input is considered vital when planning a museum, and this event — similar to a college lecture followed by an open house — is part of the usual planning process.”

Proponents have generally referred to the facility as a history center rather than a museum in an effort to keep the focus on history and education.

Mac Healy, chairman of the center's board of directors, said the decision to hold the input session at the church on Murchison Road was “incredibly intentional.”

“We wanted to give part of the community who we feel like they haven't been informed about this project — we wanted to go to a predominantly African American church so they can hear what we have to say,” Healy said.

The session is just another part of ongoing community outreach, he said.

“This will be a little different because it will have both of our top historians there,” he said. “These are the people in charge and charged with making the content. It's an opportunity for people to hear from the actual people that will be writing the actual content for the museum.”

Some people think that the organizers “are somehow coming up with the content to this museum,” Healy said.

“We've been clear from the very beginning that the only people going to deal with the content are credentialed historians,” Healy said. “So, these are the top two historians leading our team.”

The top historians expected to participate in the feedback session are Spencer Crew and Harry Watson.

Gerard Eisterhold, a nationally known designer of museums and interpretive exhibits, will lead the presentation at Mount Sinai church.

His credits include work for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis; the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, focused on the life and assassination of John F. Kennedy; the Rosa Parks Museum and Library; and national museums for the Army and Marine Corps.

Click here for Gerard Eisterhold's proposed designs for the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center, as well as examples of his other work.

Healy said the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners has approved the county’s $7.5 million in funding for the center, contingent on the Fayetteville City Council approving its pledged contribution.

On Sept. 6, the City Council was deadlocked on a vote to put the allocation on its Sept. 12 agenda, and it has not made a final decision on the funding.

“The city continues to ask for more information and ask for more details and wants to have a large presence in the planning of the museum, which I understand, to some degree,” Healy said.

History center officials have said the facility will be state-owned, according to Healy. 

“The one thing we've been clear about since the very beginning is that everything we've done, everything we do, has got to be approved by the state,” he said. “Fayetteville, as you know as well as I do, is not a wealthy community. The reasons that this plan makes sense is that the state will take it over the day we complete it, and own, operate and maintain and pay for it, 100%.”

Healy said the center is projected to generate between $18 million and $20 million annually.

“This is what (the city and county) refer to as economic development within the region. One hundred percent may not go to our county and our city, but the reality is this is the money that we want,” he said. “We're going to generate between $18 million and $20 million for the region to be used for projects. Not next year. Not the following year. Forever. Forever.”

The historians spearheading the content for the center who will participate in the feedback session include:

  • Spencer Crew, the first African American director of the Smithsonian Museum of American History, a former interim director of the Smithsonian’s African American Museum of History and Culture, and a professor at George Mason University.
  • Harry Watson, Atlanta Distinguished Professor of Southern Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and former director of the UNC Center for the Study of the American South. His research interests include the antebellum South and the relationship between race and class under slavery.
  • Jeffrey Crow, former director of the N.C. Office of Archives and History and former deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. He has written and lectured widely on North Carolina history as it relates to the Civil War and is the author of “A History of African Americans In North Carolina.”
  • Darin Waters, deputy secretary of the N.C. Office of Archives and History. He oversees the operations of history and maritime museums, archives and records, and historical resources. Waters serves on the N.C. African American Heritage Commission and is secretary of the N.C. Historical Commission. He was most recently a professor of history at UNC-Asheville.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com.

Fayetteville, Cumberland County, N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center