Based on actual events

Josh Coppenbarger is a freshman film production and journalism major and graphics assistant for The Journal

At the beginning of the school year, elections for an organization I’m involved with were held. Candidates were asked to compare their leadership style to that of any U.S. president. One student answered: “George Washington, because he freed the slaves.”
Wait… what?
Did I hear this correctly? Were my ears deceiving me? I’m afraid they weren’t. This person actually believed this was fact.
We all know – or I hope we do – that Washington did not free the slaves, but Abraham Lincoln did. At least that was not nearly as bad as when someone confused the attack on Pearl Harbor with the sinking of the Titanic.
Since when did this become acceptable knowledge of history?
Maybe I’m a little biased since I’ve grown up around history. My grandparents are Lincoln re-enactors, I am an 11-year regular participant of Civil War re-enactments and my grandfather owns a war museum. I’d guess that makes me a bit educated in history, but what about everyone else?
Many should know that this year marks the beginning of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, an event that forever changed America. Yet, it almost seems as if people have lost interest in what took place long before us.
Instead, people are all caught up in protests in the Middle East, human rights and climate change. Without understanding our own history, how can we fully understand current events? Can’t we embrace our past?
I had the fortune of visiting Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville last week. While I was there, I noticed a flyer that had an itinerary for different events the campus was holding in honor of the Civil War anniversary. Immediately, I thought, “Where was Webster’s?” In fact, no university in St. Louis is celebrating the anniversary of the war.
So what if Illinois claims to be the “Land of Lincoln?” Missouri was one of the reasons why the Civil War even began.
When Missouri fought to be accepted as a state, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 declared Missouri a slave state causing much controversy with the nation. When Kansas was applying for statehood, Missouri citizens illegally crossed state borders to vote for Kansas to become a slave state, thus beginning the historical event known as “Bleeding Kansas.”
The famous Dred Scott Decision, which began in St. Louis, ruled that Scott was still legally considered a slave despite the fact that he had already been free and married in Illinois before he moved back to Missouri. The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, the largest battle of the Civil War west of the Mississippi, took place near Springfield, Missouri. On the Confederate battle flag, Missouri is represented as one of the 13 stars.
The Arch marks the point of Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition to the West. Charles Lindbergh began his historic flight across the Atlantic Ocean here.
Did you know any of that?
We take living in a historically significant state for granted.
As a university, Webster heavily focuses on human rights rather than a historical viewpoint. The irony is the Civil War revolved around a human right — the right not to be enslaved. Why do we neglect history? If any history of our country addresses the idea of human rights and equality more than the Civil War, I’d like to hear about it.
Arguably, slavery is still the biggest human rights topic. Even though American slavery is extinct, slavery still has a presence in the world. Webster celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, yet we do nothing to commemorate the war that helped black people gain freedom in this country.
It’s time to remember those who fought to give us the opportunities we all have today, to see how far we have come in 150 years and, beyond that, whether our full human rights are granted or not.
After all, those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.

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  1. I absolutely agree with you, in fact, this is why I’m going to be a history teacher, because — as a society — our education about history has been sorely lacking. I know mine was subpar until I got to college, I’m really glad you pointed this out, because I read an article about how most of the country didn’t seem to realize the 150th anniversary of the Civil War had just passed.

  2. So wait, if we don’t understand our history we can’t understand current events. Ok, thats legit. But seriously what does the civil war have to do with protests in the Middle East and climate change? Oh yeah, thats right. Nothing.

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