Thursday, February 21, 2013

National Portrait Gallery - Bound for Freedom's Light

Thanks to the power of Netflix, I enjoyed a nice marathon of movies over the holiday weekend. My favorite category these days is Foreign Kung Fu Action and Adventure. Many of these movies are period pieces and I like seeing the depictions of life centuries ago. One movie that made it into my queue was Flowers of War starring Christian Bale. The movie was set in 1937 Nanking, China during a war between China and Japan. The movie provided an extremely graphic account of civilian war casualties.  It made me count my blessings that we live in a time and place where the possibility of war near our homes is rarely contemplated.  
Not considering that there would be a connection with Flowers of War, I visited the National Portrait Gallery's Black History Month exhibit Bound for Freedom's Light: African Americans and the Civil War today to learn a little at lunch. The exhibit included photographs and prints that highlight the role of African-Americans throughout the Civil War. The exhibit featured African-American soldiers, prominent figures during the Civil War like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, and a number of lesser known African-Americans that overcame great odds to escape slavery during the Civil War.

Instead of focusing on the triumphs of these African-Americans, I found myself thinking back to the movie and my impressions of war in general. First, there is always a great sense of pride for those who serve in the military. You could see it in the depiction of both Union and Confederate soldiers at the exhibit. Second, war has a devastating impact on communities.  From riots in opposition to the draft to military strategist who were known for employing tactics that were designed to cripple all aspects of the Confederacy, the exhibit clearly shows how the effects of war were felt far away from the battlefields.  Finally, I was struck by the role of women in war. Whether it’s protecting each other from harm or caring for wounded soldiers, women have always served in combat. 

Bound for Freedom's Light is a moving exhibit. We take so many things for granted today, it’s so important to have these visual reminders of our predecessors' struggles and how far we've come. An excellent opportunity to learn at lunch!

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