“The Long Road to Freedom” Project
A Valley-Wide Initiative to Tell the Story of the Journey from Civil War to Civil Rights
For far too long, the history of African-Americans in the Shenandoah Valley has been overlooked, overshadowed, and undertold. A major new initiative from the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District is working to change that.
The National Historic District has embarked on a new program, “The Long to Freedom Project,” that is designed to promote and enhance the understanding of the experiences and contributions of African-Americans in the Valley during the Civil War-era and beyond. The project will build on decades of work by organizations in the region; foster and facilitate a higher level of collaboration; use existing partnerships with education institutions to create learning opportunities and generate new research; foster relevance connections through a more complete telling of our history; and build a larger regional program that will maximum resources and visibility.
Interpretation Throughout the Valley
The project will include over 30 interpretive markers; a Valley-wide African-American Heritage Trail; orientation and directional signage; printed, digital, and online materials that will provide orientation and visitor information for travelers; and a new African-American History Center that will feature exhibits and collections, promote related sites in the Valley, and serve as a hub for the initiative.
To make this project a reality, the National Historic District has submitted a proposed budget amendment to the Commonwealth of Virginia. If approved, the amendment would fund the implementation off this project over a two-year period. During that time, the National Historic District would invite current partners, existing grassroots organizations, and interest groups throughout the community to assist with planning and implementation of the project within their areas of expertise and within their region of the Valley.
Fulfilling Our Mission – From Civil War to Civil Rights
The Long Road to Freedom project is part of the National Historic District’s mission to preserve, interpret, and promote the Civil War history of the Shenandoah Valley. The history of African-Americans in the Valley – in particular, the journey from Civil War to Civil Rights – is a major part of that story.
The National Historic District is not new to telling that history. We have included it in tours, interpretive signage, publications, and programs such as last year’s “Long Road to Freedom” conference. But this is a renewed effort, more comprehensive and more ambitious than anything ever seen in this region. The Long Road to Freedom initiative will bring to light – like never before – the experiences and contributions of African-Americans in the Shenandoah Valley over the last two centuries.
The United States Congress created the National Historic District and tasked it with the preservation of Civil War battlefields – not to promote any political ideology; not as a veiled attempt to promote a one-sided view of our history; and certainly not to engage in the use of our history to further modern political debate.
The District and its preservation efforts were not intended to be divisive, and we firmly believe that our history can unite us. To that end, we must work hard to ensure that we are telling complete and balanced history – unvarnished and unaffected by any special interest. The battlefields and historic sites that we work to preserve are sacred places where our nation fought over the meaning of self-government; of freedom; of equality; and over what kind of nation we were to become. They are highly evocative and hallowed landscapes and we preserve and protect them as outdoor classrooms where, in the words of our vision statement, “generations can gather to understand, commemorate, and draw meaning from our nation’s heritage.”
One Story…A Thousand Voices
Our commitment to preserve and interpret the history of the Civil War in the Valley will not falter – but it will become more inclusive. The history included in the Long Road to Freedom project is not a separate story; it is part of the same history, interwoven with and inseparable from the other aspects of the conflict. Our history is one story with a 1,000 voices – and the National Historic District is working to make sure that all of those voices are heard and blended together to inspire future generations.