By ASHLEY COKER
CEO of the Battle of Franklin Trust Eric Jacobson spoke about the changing perceptions of slavery and the Civil War to a packed room Thursday night.
Jacobson began his speech by asking the audience to keep an open mind.
The historian quipped, “Conservatives watch Fox News. Liberal watch MSNBC. But if you only watch Fox News or only watch MSNBC, you don’t really know what the other side is even talking about.”
One-sided thinking often leads to confirmation bias, or the tendency to see all new information as evidence of one’s existing opinions.
It is that kind of thinking that Jacobson asked the audience to put away for the night. He went on to speak about the truth of the war and the rapidly changing perception of millennials.
Jacobson took on the, often quite Southern, mindset that the Civil War was not about slavery early on.
He said disagreements between republican politicians and democratic politicians about slavery and its expansion into the West were at the heart of the Civil War.
“If (former Confederate Vice President) Alexander Stevens walked in the door, and you tried to tell him it wasn’t about slavery, he would look at you and say you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” Jacobson said.
He pointed out that he was not insinuating individual soldiers chose to fight because of slavery.
“It wasn’t the men who ended up fighting this God awful war who created the platform that plunged us into it,” Jacobson said. “It was the political class. It was the powerful. It’s the same old problem that is plaguing the world over and over again.”
Jacobson went on to talk about the often overlooked good that came from Reconstruction, including three Constitutional amendments, and the regression of the Jim Crow era.
He described the time between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement as something of a lost century.
Then, he arrived at the present-day conversation surrounding the Civil War and the place of monuments displaying Confederate icons in the public sector.
“Don’t be trapped by the idea that history is being erased,” Jacobson said. “If it were up to me, and I’ll say this on the record, I would not have taken the monuments down (in New Orleans), but they are not there anymore. But Robert E. Lee’s history is no different. Neither is Jefferson Davis’. Neither is the Confederacy’s.”
Jacobson expressed that museums and areas with specific Confederate icons are more appropriate places for Confederate monuments. He said context is important.
The younger generations are starting conversations about context and reconstruction. Jacobson wants to see those continue.
We owe it to the people who lived through it, who died during, who suffered immeasurably after it to be honest, to talk to each other about what really happened,” Jacobson said. “Not just about the war. It is long overdue that we talk about the aftermath of the war.”
Jacobson plans to continue the work of starting conversations, and he is in the process of planning a speaking tour.
You can reach Ashley Coker at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter via @theashleycoker.