Recent controversies surrounding Confederate monuments across North Carolina can be tied directly to a lack of understanding of the Civil War itself.

The solution will require two things: Leadership and education. In the past, challenges in North Carolina have been overcome by business, political and philanthropic leaders working together to bridge divisions and unite our citizens. Education has likewise played a vital role in bringing people together.

The state’s newest educational initiative, the North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center in Fayetteville, will play a crucial role in improving our understanding of that time. In the planning stages for a decade and led by recognized scholars and historians, working alongside leaders of every political and racial persuasion from across our state, the center recently broke ground on a state-of-the-art digital education complex.

An education on the Civil War
Using the resources of the University of North Carolina system, the facility will make the most recent scholarship about the Civil War and its aftermath available online to North Carolina public school students. Of particular interest is the 4th, 8th, and 11th grades, which is when Civil War history is taught.

The statewide digital education complex, which has been undertaken with the endorsement of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the State Board of Education and the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, is planned for completion in less than a year.

The complex is part of a larger project, which is being planned for Arsenal Park in Fayetteville, which includes a 60,000-square-foot building which planners estimate will be built beginning in 2020. The Center has already raised $27 million toward the $65 million goal necessary for completing the entire project.

It’s an important subject to consider today, because the Civil War was the third of three wars that define who we are as Americans. The Revolutionary War ratified the Declaration of Independence. The War of 1812 ratified our Constitution. But the Civil War gave us a nation in which all people are created equal through the Emancipation Proclamation and the ratification of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Without a firm understanding of this period in our state and nation, it is hard to have a productive dialogue for solutions satisfactory to citizens in the 21st century.

Toward a greater understanding
The center will provide historic facts in a nuanced, balanced, and reasonable manner. It will explore the root causes of the conflict, the War itself, the often-overlooked Reconstruction era, and the real North Carolinians—both free and enslaved—who lived in those times. Right now, the center is gathering stories from North Carolina families from all 100 counties to do just that.

Through these efforts, the center will honor the people of our state—all the people—giving light to all perspectives in this period of our history.

There is no doubt the current controversy over monuments is not going away. Given the trend of avoiding the real issues of the Civil War era for decades in the teaching of American history, our current citizens don’t have the framework necessary to find comprehensive solutions.

The N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center is looking forward to helping build that framework. When it does, then perhaps we can fulfill the promise to make this a more perfect union.

Kirk J. Bradley is a member of the board of directors of the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center Foundation and the president and CEO of Lee-Moore Capital Corporation in Sanford.