Kempton Civil War Weekend April 14 & 15


Kempton Civil War Weekend April 14 & 15
“Last Days of Abraham Lincoln”

Schedule of events listed on link

WK&S Railroad will commemorate Lincoln’s last days at the second annual Civil War Days living history encampment over the weekend of April 14 & 15.  Many well-known civil war leaders will be present to share tales of their experiences and exploits, and you will have a chance to hear President Lincoln share his thoughts on his hopes for the future of the United States once the war is over.

Come back with us, as we turn back time to April 14, 1865, and learn what it was like for the soldiers, and everyday Americans (north & south) who endured four long years of the War Between the States.  

Speaking features include a discussion of reconciliation between Generals Lee and Grant.  Along with some of the top Union Generals speaking together, a few Confederate leaders will also have time to share their side of things.  The surgeons of the time will be on site, and help you understand how medical care was advanced and how the rail roads played a part in that care.  Authors of civil war books will also be offering their wares.

The Dixie Rose Relief Society, a Southern Women’s Society, will share their experiences on the Southern home front while music will also be in the air. 

 The Damned Dutch of the 143rd of Pennsylvania will be there to talk of their local contributions to the battle of Gettysburg, the Sea Shanties will be singing and the Antebellum Marine Band will support an honors ceremony for the arrival of Mr. Lincoln by train and perform a memorial serenade on April 15th.

You will have the opportunity to observe firsthand demonstrations of military life throughout the day, featuring the armies, loading and firing their weapons, close order drill with the troops, camp life, as well as blacksmith demonstrations.

A special ride to take will be the “Presidential Special” hosting President Lincoln on the Saturday’s 12 noon train.Trains will run every hour from 12 noon through 4 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. through 4 p.m. on Sunday.

The event will be sponsored by Albany Township Historical Society, Kempton Community Center, and WK&S Railroad.  To contact the Albany Township Historical Society for more details about local citizens that fought in the war, please contact John Robertson, Historian,

For more details about the Living History Event, contact Ken Serfass, aka General Grant, at

FBI at site where Civil War gold rumored to be buried

 In this March 13, 2018 photo, FBI agents and representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources set up a base off Route 555 in Benezette Township, Elk County, Pa., at a site where treasure hunters say Civil War-era gold is buried. (Katie Weidenboerner / AP)

In this March 13, 2018 photo, FBI agents and representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources set up a base off Route 555 in Benezette Township, Elk County, Pa., at a site where treasure hunters say Civil War-era gold is buried. (Katie Weidenboerner / AP)

FBI at site where Civil War gold rumored to be buried
Published Morning Call March 16
A 155-year-old legend about buried federal gold appears to have caught the attention of the FBI.

Dozens of FBI agents, along with Pennsylvania state officials and members of a treasure-hunting group, trekked this week to a remote site where local lore has it that a Civil War gold shipment was lost or hidden during the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg.

The treasure-hunting group Finders Keepers has long insisted it found the gold buried in a state forest at Dents Run, about 135 miles (217 kilometers) northeast of Pittsburgh, but said the state wouldn't allow it to dig.

The FBI has refused to say why it was at the site Tuesday, revealing only that it was conducting court-authorized law enforcement activity. Finders Keepers owner Dennis Parada said Friday he's under FBI orders not to talk.

Historians have cast doubt on the claim that a shipment of gold was lost on its way to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.

Depending on who's doing the telling, the shipment had either 26 gold bars or 52 bars, each weighing 50 pounds (23 kilograms), meaning it would be worth about $27 million or about $55 million today.

In an older post on the Finders Keepers website, Parada said his group found the likely burial site using a high-powered metal detector. But he said the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has refused to allow the group to dig.

A department spokesman said Friday that the group previously asked to excavate the site but elected not to pay a required $15,000 bond. The spokesman referred comment on Tuesday's activity to the FBI.

New Eisenhower at Gettysburg Exhibit at Gettysburg NMP Museum

New Eisenhower at Gettysburg Exhibit Opened March 8
Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center

Camp Colt.jpg

 Gettysburg, PA (March 6, 2018) – The Gettysburg Foundation and Eisenhower National Historic Site are pleased to announce the debut of an exciting new exhibit on March 8 featuring a variety of objects from the Eisenhower National Historic Site’s museum collection. The exhibit, titled Eisenhower’s Leadership from Camp Colt to D-Day, provides a look at two pivotal events in the military career of Dwight David Eisenhower.

During the First World War, Captain Eisenhower arrived in Gettysburg in March 1918 to organize and lead Camp Colt, a training ground for the Army’s new Tank Corps. Set upon the hallowed Gettysburg battlefield, Eisenhower’s men lacked the proper equipment for training and struggled against the Spanish flu. Eisenhower overcame these difficulties, and at Camp Colt, a leader emerged.

Twenty-six years later, General Eisenhower found himself in a position of much greater responsibility. On June 6, 1944, as the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, Eisenhower oversaw the invasion of Nazi-occupied France via the beaches of Normandy. The largest amphibious landing in history was a success and paved the way for the Allied liberation of Western Europe. Eisenhower’s leadership shone again in the Second World War.

Highlights of the Exhibit Spotlight include equipment issued to an officer at Camp Colt who volunteered for the Tank Corps, “dog tags” of an enlisted man at the camp that survived the Spanish flu pandemic, the Army-issued cigarette lighter carried by General Eisenhower throughout World War II, and a piece of barbed wire from the German defenses at Point du Hoc. 

Free and open to the public, the exhibit runs through 2018, and is the newest display of artifacts within this specific area of the Museum and Visitor Center. The Exhibit Spotlight gallery annually features a new theme and rotation of artifacts that connect soldiers, civilians and generals to places on the Gettysburg battlefield. Visitors have the opportunity to follow the journey of the person featured in the exhibit through their Gettysburg experience—watching the story unfold as they explore the connections found in both the Museum and Visitor Center and on the battlefield.

Planning is underway for future Eisenhower exhibits, made possible by the Tawani Foundation/Pritzker Military Foundation.

Civil War Trust Generations Event at Antietam on Saturday April 7


I am excited to invite you to our next Civil War Trust Generations Event: Charge Burnside Bridge! This family friendly event will take place at Antietam National BattlefieldTour Stop 8—on Saturday, April 7 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. I hope you can join us.

If you have never attended a Generations event before, you’re in for an awesome experience. These events connect younger and older generations by exploring our nation’s history, at the sites where that history was made. So, bring your son, granddaughter, nephew, or friend and instill a lifelong passion for history with them.

Kids will choose their side, learn how to march like a soldier, and charge Burnside Bridge! As always, our “Cadet Conference” format employs hands-on activities and stresses teamwork, leadership, ethics and responsibility lessons as the history of the Burnside Bridge comes to life.

Come share your passion for history at this special event, sponsored by the Civil War Trust and the National Park Service. This event is FREE and open to anyone who brings someone from another generation, but space is limited, so please register today.

Questions? Feel free to contact us at

Hope to see you there,

Garry Adelman, Director of History and Education
Civil War Trust

P.S. This free Generations event takes place April 7 from 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Space is limited, so register today

Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon Organizers Denied Permit

Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon Organizers Denied Permit

Gettysburg Marathon.jpg

By Kurt Repanshek on March 9th, 2018
from National Park Travelers

Is it appropriate to stage a marathon at a Civil War battlefield site, or is the hallowed setting the wrong place for runners and cheering? That question has surfaced this week as the organizers of the Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon say the National Park Service has denied their request for a permit to stage this year's race.

"We officially learned Monday the National Park Service will not be approving our permit application as submitted," race organizers Alex Hayes wrote on the marathon's Facebook page. "They have some concerns about the appropriateness of running a marathon on hallowed ground and supporters cheering at places designed for moments of solemn reflection.

"We have mixed feelings about this. We certainly respect the National Park Service’s views in 2018, but are frustrated because the park approached us in 2016 to organize the marathon," they added. "There is new leadership at the park. They have the right to disagree with their predecessors."

Gettysburg National Military Park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon said Thursday that the park did encourage the marathon for 2016 as part of the National Park Service's centennial celebration. While the race returned in 2017, she said park staff decided that the route that was being used was not appropriate for the race.

Concerns voiced by both park staff and Gettysburg visitors, said Ms. Lawhon, concerned "(T)he footprint of the event, so to speak, and the spectators. Water stations and where there were spectators cheering and clapping for hours on end. Those impacts on places, very meaningful places for park visitors” had become an issue.

A central part of the mission of the miliary park, she explained, is to provide visitors with an opportunity to reflect on the soldiers who fell at Gettysburg, and the consequences the battle had on the nation.

"It’s very hard to pair that with what was physically happening here during the marathon," said Ms. Lawhon.

While the marathon in its first two years utilized roads that in some cases literally maked lines of battle and went past "places like Little Round Top and other places where there were major battles," park officials did offer race organizers the use of other park roads that were not so closely aligned with actual battles for this year's race, she said.

“We’re trying to find a way to reduce some of the impacts. If the marathon can still happen or not, it’s up to the organizers," said Ms. Lawhon.

The question of an event's appropriateness in a national park setting is not a new one. Not too many years ago there was a dispute over whether a professional bike race could go through Colorado National Monument. While then-National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis denied that request, there was no opposition when a portion of a professional bike race in Utah went through a sliver of Bryce Canyon National Park, albeit on a state highway.

And for the Park Service centennial, the Tour of Utah bike race was allowed to pedal, not race, through Zion National Park, a move that drew concern from the National Parks Conservation Association.

Gettysburg National Military Park plans prescribed fires in late March or April


Gettysburg National Military Park plans prescribed fires in the southern portion of the battlefield in late March or April

Gettysburg, Pa.  – Gettysburg National Military Park fire managers are preparing for a prescribed fire on two days from late March to late April, weather permitting. The plans call for burning portions of a 215 acre burn unit between Devil’s Den and South Confederate Avenue.  Fuel and weather conditions must be within certain parameters and that will determine the exact date for each of the one-day operations.

Prescribed fires allow fire managers to conduct a safe burn under optimal conditions with sufficient resources available to meet specific objectives for the management of battlefield resources. Gettysburg’s overall objectives are to maintain the conditions of the battlefield as experienced by the soldiers who fought here; perpetuate the open space character of the landscape; maintain wildlife habitat; control exotic invasive species; reduce shrub and woody species components; and reduce fuels in wooded areas to reduce fire hazard.

Temporary Road Closures Planned: During the prescribed fire, multiple roads will likely be closed for portions of the day including South Confederate Avenue, and Sickles Avenue at Devil’s Den.  Closures may last two or three days. Pedestrian and equestrian trails located within the burn area will also be closed. 

Additional roads, trails and areas may be closed temporarily if smoke conditions reduce visibility to a level that would cause visibility problems and public and firefighter safety concerns. Up-to-date information on this and any other closures and fire activity will be posted on the park's website,, and social media sites, using the hashtag, #GettysburgNPS.

The timing of the prescribed fire is dependent on conditions being within required weather parameters such as wind, temperature, and relative humidity. The prescribed fire will be conducted from approximately late morning through the afternoon, followed by patrol and monitoring to ensure the fire is completely out.  

A combination of lawn-sprinklers, hoses, mowed lines, and fire engines will be used to create a buffer and fire break to protect monuments and other cultural resources in the burn area.  National Park Service staff will monitor air quality and smoke impacts as well as visibility on nearby roads. 

More information including maps of the project areas and the park’s Fire Management Plan can be viewed on the park website,

Gettysburg National Military Park preserves, protects and interprets for this and future generations the resources associated with the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, during the American Civil War, the Soldiers' National Cemetery, and their commemorations.

Petersburg National Battlefield in Virginia Gains Nearly 4 Acres


Petersburg National Battlefield Gains Nearly 4 Acres
By NPT Staff on March 2nd, 2018
From National Parks Traveler

A nearly 4-acre tract of land has been added to Petersburg National Battlefield in Virginia thanks to a donation to the National Park Foundation made back in 1991.

The Foundation received the 3.7-acre tract from the late Roberta Odom, who passed away in 1993. However, it did not receive permission to actually donate the land to the battlefield until Congress passed requisite legislation in 2016.

The land lies in the heart of the Petersburg Civil War landscape. It saw fighting during the August 1864 Battle of Weldon Railroad and then served as the camp for the 50th New York Engineers during the latter part of the 1864-65 Siege of Petersburg. After the war, it was used as a camp for the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Today, the national cemetery at nearby Poplar Grove is the resting place for more than 6,000 American soldiers. One of 14 national cemeteries administered by the NPS, Poplar Grove is open daily and visitors are welcome to walk its grounds.

“Private philanthropy is making it possible for more people to honor those who gave their lives in service to their country,” said Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation. “The 3.7-acre inholding donation provides access and parking so visitors can more easily explore historic Poplar Grove National Cemetery.” 

“Petersburg National Battlefield is grateful for the dedication and hard work of the National Park Foundation and the generosity of those who contribute to the preservation of this nation’s historic sites,” said Lewis Rogers, Superintendent of Petersburg National Battlefield. “This donation of land will further assist us tell the story of the Siege of Petersburg and the soldiers buried within the brick walls of the cemetery to ensure that their sacrifice on behalf of their nation will never be forgotten.”

In 2016, with the support of numerous land conservation organizations and park partners, including the Civil War Trust, Petersburg Battlefields Foundation, and The Conservation Fund, Congress passed bipartisan legislation to expand the boundary of Petersburg National Battlefield to include this tract and other land within the park’s acquisition boundary. With the passage of the legislation, Congress provided NPS with the authority to accept the donation of the property from the National Park Foundation. 

Rare copy of Declaration of Independence survived Civil War hidden behind wallpaper


Rare copy of Declaration of Independence survived Civil War hidden behind wallpaper
by Michael E. Ruane of the Washington Post
Link to the article

This copy of the Declaration of Independence, made in the 1820s, was given to founding father James Madison. It has recently been purchased by a billionaire philanthropist. 

During the Civil War, the precious document was hidden behind wallpaper in a home in Virginia to keep Union soldiers from finding it.

Later, it sat in a closet in Kentucky, in a broken frame, unappreciated and stored in a cardboard box.

And later still it was stuck behind a cabinet in the office of an energy executive outside Houston.

It was a rare parchment copy of the Declaration of Independence, made in Washington in the 1820s for founding father James Madison, and apparently unknown to the public for more than a century.

Now, the copy, one of 51 that scholars are aware of, has resurfaced via its purchase last month by billionaire philanthropist David M. Rubenstein.

It is one of the exquisite facsimiles made from the original handwritten calf skin document crafted in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776. Scholars say it bears the image of the Declaration that most people know, in part because the original is now so badly faded.

"This is the closest ... to the original Declaration, the way it looked when it was signed in August of 1776," said Seth Kaller, a New York rare document appraiser who assisted in the sale. "Without these ... copies you wouldn't even know what the original looked liked."

Two hundred of the facsimiles were ordered by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, a future president, who was concerned about the already-worn condition of the 40-year-old original.

Master engraver William Stone made the copies in his shop on Pennsylvania Avenue, and created an extra one for himself.

In 1824, the facsimiles were distributed to Congress, the White House, and various VIPs like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Madison. Each man got two copies.

This 1820s copy of the Declaration of Independence features a decorative diagonal mark through the "T" that does not appear to be in the original.

In time, both of Madison's copies vanished from view, and it is only now that one has surfaced, Kaller said in a recent interview. "There was no idea that it had survived," he said.

The fate of the second Madison copy, and over 100 of the others, is not publicly known, he said.

When the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, it sent a working manuscript, also now lost, to a local printer to set in type.

The printer produced several hundred printed copies for Congress and other officials the next day, Kaller wrote in a historical pamphlet.

On July 19, Congress ordered a handwritten, or "engrossed," copy made on calf skin, to be signed by the members.

The job went to Timothy Matlack, a congressional aide who was known for his superb penmanship.

This hallowed version now resides in the National Archives, so washed out that many signatures, including Thomas Jefferson's, are either gone or barely visible.

It is largely through the foresight of John Quincy Adams that excellent copies of the original - exact except for a few interesting tweaks - survive today.

Kaller wrote that by 1820, the original had been handled, rolled, unrolled and marred by the efforts of earlier engravers to make decorative copies. "Every one of the worst things that could have happened to the original" had happened, he said.

Virginia Military Institute surgeon Robert L. Madison in 1870. Madison was James Madison's favorite nephew, and had lived for a time in the White House when his uncle was president. Robert Madison was one of the first people to possess the copy of the Declaration of Independence.

John Quincy Adams gave it to Stone, and the engraver worked on copying it for about two years.

Kaller said he believes Stone likely first traced the original with tracing paper. He then used the tracing to hand-engrave an image of the Declaration on a copper plate, from which the facsimiles were then made.

But Stone may have made some minute textual changes, possibly to distinguish his copies from the original, Kaller wrote.

The ornate "T" in the "The" of the "The unanimous Declaration ..." seems to have been slightly altered. In the Stone copies, a decorative diagonal line runs through the "T." The line does not appear to be in the original.

In the original, there seems to be a heart-shaped flourish where the T is crossed that's omitted in the Stone copy.

And Stone added a tiny imprint across the top of the page,"ENGRAVEDed by W.I. STONE, for the Dept. of State, by order of J.Q. ADAMS, Sect. of State, July 4th. 1823."

Before the newly resurfaced copy was found, it had been kept in a cracked frame, wrapped up inside a cardboard box in Michael O'Mara's office outside Houston.

It had been there for 10 years, and before that it had been in his parents' house in Louisville when he was growing up.

His family had once had it framed and put on the mantel piece. His parents knew it had been passed down through his family from Madison. But in the 1960s it was considered "worthless," O'Mara said.

David Rubenstein
David Rubenstein now owns five of the rare Declaration of Independence copies made by William Stone.  (Marvin Joseph / The Washington Post)
When the frame cracked the document was taken down and stored in a bedroom closet.

"So for ... 35 years, it sat in a box, wrapped up, in a broken frame, in my mother's house," he said in a recent interview. "There was just not a lot of sentiment or value put on it. ... My mother couldn't have cared less about the family history."

The Declaration had been handed down to O'Mara's mother, Helen, who was the great-granddaughter of Col. Robert Lewis Madison Jr., a Civil War doctor who had served in the Confederate army and treated Robert E. Lee in the last years of Lee's life.

Research indicates that the physician had gotten the document from his father, Robert Lewis Madison Sr.

Madison Sr. was James Madison's favorite nephew, and had lived for a time in the White House when his uncle was president. He had likely received the document from President Madison.

Thus, the copy of the nation's founding declaration had passed through turbulent years of the country's evolution, including the war that almost destroyed the document's "united States of America."

O'Mara found in family papers a 1913 news article - the last known public mention of his Declaration - that told of its fate during the Civil War.

The family of Dr. Madison was then probably living in Lexington, Virginia, where the physician was a professor at the Virginia Military Institute before and during the war, according to VMI.

The clipping reported that the doctor's wife put the Declaration behind "the paper on the wall" to hide it from Union soldiers, should the house be searched.

In 1864, Union troops raided Lexington and burned VMI. But the Madison house apparently was unmolested, and the Declaration survived with only some moisture damage sustained while hidden.

O'Mara said that after his mother died in 2014, he began going through family papers. "I just happened to look over at this box, and I said, 'I've either got to put that in a frame and put it up in my office or I need to get rid of it if there's some historical value.'"

In 2016, his research led him to Rubenstein, who has purchased other historical documents, including Declaration copies. He emailed Rubenstein, who expressed interest.

The Declaration was authenticated, and then underwent conservation at the National Archives, O'Mara said.

"I agreed to buy it," Rubenstein said in a recent telephone interview, noting only that he had paid "seven figures" for it.

Madison, who was president from 1809 to 1817, had been a key player in the creation of the government. This was Madison's copy of the Declaration, and "when you look at it you can conjure up images of James Madison looking at it," Rubenstein said.

In 2014, Rubenstein announced the donation of $10 million to Montpelier, Madison's historic Orange, Virginia, home, for reconstruction, refurnishing and archaeology.

Madison's family occupied the plantation with its slaves for several generations, and he is buried there.

Co-founder of the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based global private-equity firm, Rubenstein said he now owns five of the William Stone Declaration copies.

Four have been lent out for display. This copy will be, too, he said, first to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

"Ultimately, they'll always be on display," he said.

Key piece of land at Battle of Brandywine approved for purchase

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 8.29.30 PM.png

Key piece of land at battle of Brandywine approved for purchase

The map shows the location of the site acquired that will protect the Brandywine Battlefield. submitted photo

By Digital First Media
POSTED: 02/18/18, 7:37 PM EST

Chadds Ford >> Located in the heart of the historic Brandywine Battlefield, a 13-acre tract of land on Birmingham Hill has been approved for purchase by the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art’s Board of Trustees. This parcel of land is the final piece of the Brandywine’s 25-year endeavor to preserve more than 500 contiguous acres around Meetinghouse Road in Birmingham Township, where the fiercest fighting occurred during the Revolutionary War Battle of Brandywine.

Owned by the Estate of Mrs. Roberta Odell, the 13-acre tract on Birmingham Hill was near the epicenter of the Battle of Brandywine. Once purchased, this tract will be merged with an adjacent 100-acre property previously acquired by Brandywine in 2007, bringing the total Battlefield acreage permanently protected in Meetinghouse Road Corridor to over 500. This purchase will also bring fulfillment to the decades of work and major fundraising efforts to preserve the area as a contiguous whole, preventing development in the heart of one of the nation’s most important historic battlefields.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the Brandywine identified five large, undeveloped and unprotected neighboring properties along and near Meetinghouse Road in Birmingham Township which included the sites where the most intense clashes of the Battle of Brandywine occurred. In order to protect this land from development, conservation easements were necessary to preserve the historic significance and scenic vistas of these Battlefield lands. By 2007, the Brandywine and its partners had raised more than $16 million in public and private funds to acquire the properties and/or place conservation easements with the landowners, resulting in the permanent protection of 485 acres of the Battlefield. The remaining 13-acre parcel on Birmingham Hill is the final piece of this major fundraising effort. David Shields, Associate Director of the Brandywine Conservancy, has been at the forefront of the effort to save the Battlefield and this land from development. “Piece by piece, and with the strong support of our major funders, our goal to protect the historic properties in the Battlefield’s Meetinghouse Road Corridor is nearing completion,” commented Shields. “This is a personally gratifying moment for me as I’ve been working on this project since its inception.”

“This is a key piece of land that the Brandywine has long sought to preserve in order to protect this historic site in honor of the battle and those who fought, and I’m pleased to see it finally coming to fruition,” said Ellen Ferretti, Director of the Brandywine Conservancy. “I want to thank David Shields and the many supporters who have previously contributed over $16 million to make the first phase of this effort possible. We look forward to the next chapter in preserving this piece of cultural heritage for future generations.”

Following the purchase and additional fundraising efforts, the Brandywine will develop a master plan for the combined properties. While the Brandywine is in the beginning stages of planning for the use and management of the entire Birmingham Hill property, the initial goals will be to preserve the property’s historic integrity; conserve existing natural resources; provide opportunities for public visitation; develop interpretative and educational programs; and seek out qualified partners to work with the Brandywine to help realize these goals.

The Battle of the Brandywine took place on Sept. 11, 1777. Success on the battlefield enabled the British to capture Philadelphia, beginning an occupation that would last until June 1778, while the Continental Army spent an arduous winter at Valley Forge. Starting from Kennett Square, British general Sir William Howe led half his army on a 12-mile march, crossing the Brandywine five miles north of Chadds Ford, and took a strategic position on the heights of Osborne Hill overlooking the Birmingham Friends Meeting House. The British were hoping to make a surprise assault on the rear of Washington’s Continental Army amassed at Chadds Ford. On Birmingham Hill and neighboring parcels, Continental forces hastily formed into battle lines to defend against the British forces attacking from the north. More troops fought in the Battle of Brandywine than in any other battle of the American Revolution. The battle lasted for 11 hours until darkness forced a halt. Both sides suffered heavy losses and while the Americans eventually retreated, they gained a new respect for their demonstrated resolve and discipline in battle. The Brandywine Battlefield is designated as both a National Historic Landmark and the first Commonwealth Treasure for its historic integrity and significance to America’s national history.

Deep Divide on Teaching about Slavery


Study Reveals Deep Shortcomings With How Schools Teach America’s History of Slavery
Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent report identifies key problems when it comes to educating students on slavery—and offers guidance on how to fix them
By Jason Daley 
February 7, 2018 4:12PM

Discussing difficult topics in a meaningful way with adolescents isn’t easy. But that’s the responsibility that comes with the job for history teachers. However, as Cory Turner at NPR reports, a new study from the Southern Poverty Law Center reveals that many classrooms are falling short in this regard, specifically when it comes to teaching about the United States’ history with slavery.

The recent report examined text books, state standards and received questionnaires from more than 1,700 K-12 history and social studies teachers. The SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance Project also administered a multiple-choice online survey about slavery to 1,000 high school seniors.

The findings revealed that only one-third of the respondents knew that the 13th Amendment ended slavery, less than half knew about the Middle Passage, and only eight percent answered that slavery was the primary reason the South seceded from the Union. (Nearly half the respondents selected, instead, “To protest taxes on imported goods.”)

The study zooms in on seven key problems when it comes to current state of teaching slavery in U.S. classrooms. Instead of learning about the horrors of slavery and the impact of slave labor on this country, it argues that textbooks and teachers have contributed to a sanitized understanding of history by focusing on “positive” stories about black leaders like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and the abolitionist movement.

The narrative is also skewed by an over-emphasis on the experiences of white people before and during the Civil War. Lessons that divorce slavery from the ideology of white supremacy, focus on slavery as a Southern institution and downplay slavery’s impact on the nation as a whole additionally contribute to a lack of understanding around the origins and impact of slavery in the U.S. As do teachers and textbooks that do not connect the legacy of slavery to later historical periods like Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Great Migration and the Civil Rights movement.

“Students are being deprived of the truth about our history [and] the materials that teachers have are not particularly good,” Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance, explains in an interview with Melinda D. Anderson at The Atlantic. “I would hope that students would look at this and realize that they deserve to know better … and teachers need to know there are better ways to teach this [topic].”

But it’s not just uncomfortable teachers that make the topics hard to discuss. Students are often resistant to the topic as well. “When you bring up racism, kids start getting really defensive, thinking that they’re to blame,” Jackie Katz, history teacher at Wellesley High School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, says in an interview with Turner. “To feel comfortable, you need to have a really good classroom climate, where students feel that they’re not being blamed for what happened in the American past, where they don’t feel shame about it. It is 100 percent not their fault that there is racism in this country. It will be their fault if they don’t do anything about it in the next 20 years.”

The study offers four recommendations for improving the quality of teaching of slavery in classrooms. One is to integrate lessons about slavery into all aspects of American history rather than studying it as an era that ended with the Civil War. It also suggests using more first-hand accounts and documents to represent the voices of those marginalized by history. Additionally, the study calls on textbooks to present more complex histories on the realities of slavery and for state curriculums to be strengthened to support such teachings.

“Teaching about slavery is hard,” the authors acknowledge in their report. “It requires often-difficult conversations about race and a deep understanding of American history.” However, they conclude, “Learning about slavery is essential if we are ever to come to grips with the racial differences that continue to divide our nation.”

To read read more: click here