W. Fitzhugh Brundage spoke Tuesday about racial divides in the southern United States and how they influence perceptions of the area's history.
In his lecture, The Southern Past: the Clash of Race and Memory, the professor from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill addressed recent conflicts stemming from Southerners' different perspectives on regional identity.
"It seems especially relevant in the aftermath of the election...and the way in which many Southerners voted," Brundage said.
He cited recent examples of varying racial attitudes dividing communities on issues as simple as renaming a street.
Citizens of Caroline County, Va., were caught in a disagreement regarding a statue for the town square. The city rejected plans to commemorate a slave rebellion and to honor a couple convicted for interracial marriage before it was legalized.
Another debate focusing on the naming of public schools emerged throughout the South during the 1990s.
Many blacks did not want to attend institutions named after Confederate generals or members of the Ku Klux Klan, while whites saw no reason to change the names.
"These struggles...draw our attention to the profound transformation at work in the contemporary South," Brundage said.
He also spoke on the importance of democratic pluralism, in which whites and blacks contend the equality of different views. In the past, whites exploited their wealth and power to promote their perspective of history, he said.
"Southerners can no longer assume that their version of the past will be promoted in public places," Brundage said.
Legislatures and courts have become battlegrounds for the debate. A pluralist culture will only be cultivated through strenuous expression and respect for different opinions of history, even if one does not accept them, he added
"We could turn to an era where the culture wars become extremely political," he said.
Brundage is a noted historian and author whose visit was part of the annual Charles O. Jackson Memorial Lecture Series.