My first experience was when I was in first grade, we went on a field trip to the Rice museum in my hometown in Georgetown, South Carolina. There I learned about the major role Georgetown played exporting goods during the 18th and 19th century.

Cathedral Caverns: My First Historic Experience

Cathedral Caverns State Park in North Alabama has the largest cave mouth in the world, its also about a 15 minute drive from my childhood home. We went all the time when I was a child and I remember going there and hearing the tales of native people, pioneers, and outlaws who all were parts of the caves history. At least according to the tour guide. I remember this opened up a lot of questions about history to me and I can remember asking my father about all sorts of other historical topics when we would go to the cave. To this day, these are fond memories of my historical understanding.

My Experience with Public History

One of the best teachers I had in elementary school was my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Schmitt. His primary area of expertise was history, and the one thing that he emphasized throughout the year was our understanding of the Holocaust during World War II. He was from Germany and felt particularly strongly that we understood the things that happened by creating activities that pitted us as certain victims of the Holocaust and teaching from the Diary of Anne Frank. At the end of the year, he invited Ruth Greuner, a Holocaust survivor who’s autobiography we read, to speak and have dinner with all of us, which was an amazing experience that every one of us, even as eleven and twelve year olds, understood the depth of.

USS Alabama

My first experience, that most clearly sticks out in my mind, was visiting the USS Alabama in Mobile. I was about 8 or 9 years old, and it was memorable to me because of how it made me feel to actually be able to see and touch history and see how things were for the men that served not only on that ship, but also in WWII.

First Experience interacting with Public History

Every summer, my mother would drive my younger brother and I from Mississippi to Ohio. This drive took us through Birmingham, a city a read about, but never visited before living there years later. My mother agreed to a stop at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute one of these summers. This became an extremely memorable experience for me because at the time, I was in middle school, and I read and studied the Movement, but never visited the city where much of the scholarship focused.

From 2018 to 2020

Long before the Pandemic, the nationwide protesting, the chaos of 2020, removing Confederate monuments became a popular statement that protesters would make in all kind antiracism rally. One of the cases which left me the most memorable impression was the removal of the Confederate Monument in UNC, also known as Silent Sam. Like many other confederate monuments I have visited in the past, Silent Sam was vandalized multiple times before it was pulled down. This hundred and five years old monument was pulled down by protesters on the night of August 20, 2018. For the people on the rally, it is a symbol to “tear down UNC’s white supremacy.”

For all the confederate monuments across the United States, they are all facing the same problem, would they be the next monument on the removing list? I believe the deeper question about those monuments is this: is the confederate monument a historic artifact, or a political statement? I think instead of thinking do monuments belong in a museum, think do they have a place in the museum is better to suit the current environment we are living in. The study of history is not isolated from our political environment, the public opinion. And so far many people see those monuments as a symbol of racism and the failure of the system. In the past months, we have seen the painting of the BLM slogans on a lot of monuments, and many of them have been removed or vandalized during the riots.

I recently visited the Vicksburg national park which contains multiple confederate monuments. In some ways, those monuments belong to this public “museum.” But what worries me is if the people cannot stand one confederate monument on their public street, how can they be ok for more of the monuments stand on their public land?