ALBANY, Ga. -- Andersonville National Historic Site Park Ranger Chris Barr is a native of Americus and grew up about 15 miles from the notorious Confederate Civil War prison.
A history major, Barr is intimately familiar with the site's past and present, and he said Thursday he has high hopes for its future.
As the National Park Service celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Barr is on a mission to encourage African-Americans to remember the 13,000 Union prisoners who died there for their freedom.
"The NPS theme of 'From the Civil War to Civil Rights' is embodied in Andersonville," Bart told a gathering at the Albany Civil Rights Institute Thursday evening. "That history extends from the war to the late 1890s. Then there was a real sense of thanks to the troops. It became a place for black folks to celebrate their freedom, especially during Memorial Day.
"But that changed as the South began enacting Jim Crow laws."
At its most crowded, Andersonville (the prison itself was actually called Camp Sumter) held more than 32,000 men, many of them wounded and starving, in horrific conditions with rampant disease, contaminated water, and only minimal shelter from the blazing sun and the chilling winter rain.
In the prison's 14 months of existence, some 45,000 Union prisoners arrived there; of those, 12,920 died and were buried in a cemetery created just outside the prison walls.
Barr said around 100 African-American soldiers were held captive at Andersonville, and more than 30 died and are buried there.
"The prison and the cemetery are tied to the Civil Rights movement," Barr said. "It is a very real and rich history that should not be forgotten."
Today, Andersonville National Historic Site comprises three distinct components: the former site of Camp Sumter military prison, the Andersonville National Cemetery and the National Prisoner of War Museum, which opened in 1998 to honor all U.S. prisoners of war in all wars.