April 12 marked the 150th anniversary of Confederate forces opening fire on Union soldiers in Fort Sumter, S.C., marking the start of the Civil War.
Only 150 years ago, our country was in turmoil and fighting among us in one of the most brutal wars in American history. It’s easy to forget why we fought, and it’s easy to think that what happened so long ago is just buried history, never to be repeated or felt again. However, we can never forget the lessons learned. Even now, the brutal treatment of other human beings is glossed over, and people forget just how important it is to fight for the freedom of all.
Here, in the former capital of the Confederacy, we’re reminded even now that the sting of our past will never go away and just ignoring it will only hurt us.
After years of campaigning and fighting, the Richmond Slave Trail finally opened this past Monday.
Historical markers note the important moments in Richmond slave history, including how the infamous “Devil’s Half-Acre” was turned into a school for African-Americans, eventually becoming Virginia Union University.
This triumph of remembrance and reverence is in spite of many organizations and people, including our very own university. For years, VCU held onto the property to use as a parking lot. A portion of this parking lot was on property that was well-known as a burial ground for slaves.
In spite of his assistance in transferring the burial ground away from the university for this historical preservation and his assistance in making the Richmond Slave Trail what it now is, Gov. Bob McDonnell has shown himself to be just as forgetful of the lessons taught by our past.
Instead of attending the unveiling on April 3, marking the anniversary of Confederate troops in Richmond surrendering to Union forces, McDonnell and Mayor Dwight Jones instead traveled to Houston to watch the Rams play in the Final Four and delayed the ceremony for the week after. Instead of going to an event planned months in advance, or sending in representatives in their stead, they chose to show Richmond just how much they care about it’s history.
Oh, how easy it is to ignore the past.
It’s so easy for people, especially college students, to forget the impact that slavery and the Civil War had on America. We did not live through it, we did not know anyone who lived through it, and any impact the war had on our country was made long before we were born. Why should we care?
We should care so that we do no repeat the same mistakes. It’s easy to overlook the impact made by the past, and it’s easy to overlook the lessons to be learned.
History is not about learning facts, dates and names. It’s about learning lessons vital to self-improvement. It’s about seeing just where our ancestors went wrong and what they could have done to make it better. And it’s about utilizing those lessons to make the present day better.
Just the other day, I was in a heated debate regarding the current state of Libya. My view is that the United States should do what it can to help save lives and oust Gaddafi. The response made was not that we have no place to undermine another nation’s sovereignty (which is understandable), but that we should not “waste American lives on other people.” What makes an American life more important? Why are the Libyans of less value than us?
These lessons aren’t something that we should easily ignore or forget. George Satayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Only remembering our past will prevent us from making the same mistakes that mar our history books.
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