Cyclorama to bring diversity to Civil War discussion

Filmmaker Jonathan Gruber admits he didn’t know much about the Jewish presence in the Civil War until he was tapped to make a documentary.

Thousands of Jewish soldiers fought alongside their divided Northern and Southern brothers.

Then there was the controversial and influential Judah P. Benjamin, a Louisiana legislator who rose through the ranks of the Confederacy and was later blamed for the loss at the Battle of Roanoke Island.

The Jewish contribution “is a small story tucked in a larger story,” said Gruber, a Maryland-based filmmaker. “I think this is a fascinating way to understand our country’s history through the prism of one specific group of people who came here as immigrants, starting with the first settlers from Europe.”

Gruber will discuss and show his documentary, “Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray,” at 7 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Atlanta Cyclorama, 800 Cherokee Ave., as part of a multiyear observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. (Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and children ages 4 through 12.)

A series of events this summer at the Cyclorama will lead up to the anniversary observance of the Battle of Atlanta in 1864, which was a turning point in the war.

It’s part of a goal to show not only the diversity of those on both sides of the war between the states but to bring in more diverse audiences, said museum consultant Anthony B. Knight Jr., who joined the attraction in 2011.

The Cyclorama, which is known for its massive oil painting depicting the Battle of Atlanta and diorama foreground, drew about 54,000 visitors last year.

Knight said Gruber’s visit is presented in partnership with the William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum.

Other events will look at the role of women and African-Americans, and the evolution of soul food.

“We’re looking at what the war meant to everyone,” Knight said. “Men, women, African-Americans, Native Americans and children. What were the social implications? If you ask a white Southerner, you get one answer. If you ask a white Northerner, you get another answer. But if you ask all African-Americans, generally you get the same answer no matter where they’re from,” he said.

Monica Prothro, the facility administrator, said visitors will also gain greater insight into how important Atlanta was to the Civil War with its key railways.

“Education is our main goal,” she said. But diverse programming will pay off in other ways as well, such as raising the profile of the Cyclorama.

“We want to reintroduce the Cyclorama to those who may be familiar but haven’t visited in years and to introduce it to those who don’t have a clue what is the Cyclorama.”

Among the events scheduled this summer:

May — Valerie Martin, professor of English at Mount Holyoke College, will talk about "Property: The Story of a Woman Slave Owner and Her Mulatta" at 6 p.m. May 30.

June — Michael Thurmond, author and former state labor commissioner, will discuss the role Georgia played in the debate over freedom and equality for African-Americans. He will discuss his book, "Freedom: An African American History of Georgia, 1733-1865," at 6 p.m. June 20.

July — Ronald S. Coddington will discuss and sign copies of his book "African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album" at 6:30 p.m. July 11. He uses military records, personal files and archival images to tell the story of the African-American men who fought in the war. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and children between the ages of 4 and 12.

“High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America” will trace the history of soul food. Author Jessica B. Harris will speak at 6 p.m. July 20. A reception with the author will be held before the lecture. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $8 for children ages 4 through 12.

August — Elizabeth D. Leonard, a professor of history at Colby College, will discuss and sign copies of her book "All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies" at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 22.

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