It appears that the re-enactment of a slave auction at St. Louis’s Old Courthouse on January 15 has attracted some significant media attention.
I’m really undecided about reenactments in general as a means of teaching history and, more than a conventional battle reenactment, this event in particular is fraught with opportunity for misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Reenacting a slave auction—or any other event related to slavery—really is the sort of thing that people react viscerally to (good), often shutting out discussion and introspection in the process (bad). I just don’t know how well it works as public education. But if it keeps the conversation going about the underlying issues of the war, how we interpret the conflict, and the myriad of perspectives involved, then that’s all to the good.
Blogger Abbi Telander, who attended the event, argues that all Americans need to deal with the painful legacies of slavery:
This is part of our shared heritage. Whether or not your descendants were involved does not negate the fact that we all share this history as Americans. We share the agonies of the enslaved as well as the fight of the abolitionist and the responsibility of the owners. We have a responsibility to our past to understand it and a responsibility to our future to do better.
Another local blogger, Bob Pollock, had a more positive take on the event:
Do I think living history programs and re-enactments are worthwhile? Yes, I do, if they bring visitors to the park, particularly visitors who don’t normally come to the park, and if the visitor makes that emotional and intellectual connection. Most of all does the program make a visitor think?
Whether you attended the event or not, what do you think about this issue? Are controversial re-enactments a good idea? Why or why not? Use the comments section to add your two cents.