Students connect with past at Museum of the Confederacy

Posted at 1:56 PM, Jul 18, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-18 13:57:44-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Some interns at the Museum of the Confederacy are getting a rare opportunity to touch the past this summer.

North Carolina Central University undergrad and graduate students have been pouring through stacks of papers at the museum. The group is also cataloguing some letters from key figures in the Civil War.

In fact, student Donna Nelson has been reading and transcribing President Jefferson Davis` family papers.  One letter in particular, a condolence letter from slaves to Davis` widow, stands out for Nelson.

"It was an interesting letter simply because the slaves signed their names on the letters," said Nelson.

But some have questioned why, as African Americans, the students want to spend so much time studying an era and place associated with so much pain.  

"I like to take on new things… I like things that are outside the box," said Nelson.

Ronnika Williams, who is interning for a second year at the museum, said her experience has been amazing.

"It is a part of US history," said Williams. "This is where we live, I mean why not?"

For the students, it has been a chance to learn about their history while working to connect some missing pieces.  

"'When you go into primary sources, what you end up finding is yourself, because it is our own story," said Eric Richardson, the project's director.

And the students were not just cooped up in a research library at the museum.  They were able to tour battlefields from Fredericksburg to the Tri-Cities to give them even more perspective on the soldiers and civilians impacted by the Civil War.

The program, which is wrapping up its fourth year, has some students already making plans to return next summer.