Last night I watched a documentary called Long Shadows: The Legacy of the Civil War. The film was produced by Ross Spears, a documentarian whose focus is Southern literature and culture. Spears made the film in the mid 1980s and he interviewed a disparate collection of historians, journalists, novelists, and plain folks (Northern and Southern) about their views on the Civil War and its legacy. Part of what makes the film interesting is that for many of the talking heads the war was not “history” but a tradition passed on to them in their youths by living relatives, often grandfathers who fought in the war. Those interviewed include Jimmy Carter, Robert Penn Warren and C. Van Woodward (together), Tom Wicker, John Hope Frankiln, Studs Terkel, and the incomparable Albert Murray. (Quick digression: I once ran into Mr. Murray in the Strand bookstore and can attest that in person he indeed has that mischievous smile and graciousness one would expect.) Born in the first decades of the twentieth century, these individuals saw their region transform from a poor backwater region to the Sunbelt mecca it is today. The film captures some of the exhaustion that was prevalent in the decade after the energy crisis, the fall of Saigon, and immediate post Civil Rights Era. The film does and excellent job explaining how the Civil War is still very much a part of our lives and why we should care today. The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.
Originally released in 1987, Long Shadows is about due for a sequel or at least a postscript. Hopefully Mr. Ross will use the sesquicentennial to update his film and show us how the long shadow of the Civil War continues to offer shade and darkness a quarter century after its original release.