On why people are still arguing about what the Civil War was really about
"When you go back and you look at the actual documents, many people have said since then that it was about states' rights, but really the only significant state right that people were arguing about in 1860 was the right to own what was known as slave property — property and slaves unimpeded — and to be able to travel with that property anywhere that you wanted to. So it's clear that this was really about slavery in almost every significant way, but we've sort of pushed that to the side because of course we want to believe that our country is a country that's always stood for freedom. And ... certainly it's difficult for some Southern Americans to accept that their ancestors fought a war on behalf of slavery. And I think that Northerners really, for the cause of national reconciliation, decided to push that aside — decided to accept Southerners' denials or demurrals."
On changes in the South
"I think the South is changing a lot today, even from where it was just a few years ago. Some of the deep genesis of my interest in this subject came about 10 years ago when I traveled through the Deep South, visiting plantations and plantations that had become historic sites. And I found there was this great collective amnesia going on. I visited one plantation in Natchez, Miss., where the slave cabins had been turned into guest rooms at a bed and breakfast, and there were Jacuzzi bathtubs in these places, and it was this incredible example of redecorating the past away. But I think even 10 years later, when you travel through the South and you visit these historic sites, there's an increasing willingness to engage with the slave past."
On the 50th anniversary of Gettysburg
"In 1913, there was an anniversary celebration at Gettysburg — the anniversary of the 1863 battle — and they brought these Northern and Southern veterans together, and the Confederate and Union vets embraced one another. There are some wonderful photographs, and they're holding Union flags and Confederate flags, and Woodrow Wilson went and gave a speech, saying that the 'old quarrel has been forgotten.' Well, it's very symbolically significant that excluded from that reunion were the black veterans. They were not even invited to participate. That part of the Civil War history was, for a long time in this country, simply pushed aside and erased almost completely."