Students get closeup Civil War lessons
By Robin Morales
LCC students Chase Rapin, 23, and Maariam Tesfae, 22, accompanied by LCC history professors Wade Merrill and Jeffery Janowick, traveled to Maryland and West Virginia Oct. 10 through 13.
They visited the Antietam Battlefield and Harper’s Ferry, important locations pertaining to the American Civil War. The trip, the first of its kind for LCC, was funded by an anonymous donor from the college’s foundation.
The following is an edited interview transcript of the trip, as recounted by Rapin and Tesfae.
Why do you think it’s important for students, and the larger community, to not only learn about history, but to see history as you were able to do?
Rapin: “Just going there (Antietam) and standing on the same battlefield where 23,000 people died in one day, it forces the question, ‘Why? Why did this happen?’ And it forces you to really take into account that this country has gone through ups and downs.”
Tesfae: “To actually look at that space and to really realize that, like (Rapin) said, 23,000 people died, right where you’re looking, that’s very powerful. It also helps you realize that … we can never let this happen again.”
Chase, you brought up the question of “Why.” The question of “Why did that battle happen,” and “Why did the Civil War happen?” Were you able to answer these questions during the trip?
Rapin: “It’s objectively clear now that the Civil War happened because of slavery … (yet) that is still somehow up for debate … there are people that have an objective … to debate that question, when in reality, when you’re there, it’s pretty clear. It’s very hard to deny.”
In addition to Antietam, you visited Harper’s Ferry?
Tesfae: “We did end up going to Harper’s Ferry (in West Virginia) … where John Brown held his raid, trying to create a slave rebellion.”
Rapin: “The most interesting part about going on the trip, in general for me, was that you didn’t just get the narrative that you were taught in high school. (Harper’s Ferry) forces you to consider all aspects and all historical voices.”
Tesfae: “It makes you realize just how complex history is in general, but especially the Civil War because it was so divisive … It happened in the 1860s and we still see remnants of those attitudes today. It also speaks to how powerful the lasting effects of historical events are.”
Do you think there are people today in the U.S. who want to write the Civil War narrative as being about “States Rights?” And if so, what do you make of that?
Tesfae: “Yes … we see the Confederate flag being used and a lot of people defend its use by saying ‘Oh, it’s just about heritage.’ I grew up in western Michigan, which is kind of a more rural, conservative area. There are still people in that area that use the Confederate flag and put it on their pickup trucks. It makes you wonder: ‘You live in Michigan, which had no participation in the slavery aspect.’ It begs the question, ‘Why are you using that symbol that’s so clearly a symbol of that time?’ The Confederate flag and the Confederacy itself were treasonous, they seceded. It’s interesting to see how something so powerful in that time has kind of shifted, and its meaning has shifted to today.”
Rapin and Tesfae said they will give a presentation about their trip at LCC’s “StarScapes” event in November.