The state of North Carolina unveiled a commemorative license plate for the Civil War yesterday, promoting the official themes of the state's sesquicentennial observance: Freedom, Sacrifice, and Memory. While some state legislatures established official commissions to guide their commemorative programs, North Carolina's did not. Instead, the state's Office of Archives and History in the Department of Cultural Resources formed a Civil War 150 committee to devise programs to mark the sesquicentennial. The office ought to be commended for consciously choosing themes that cover a wide range of subjects and engage a variety of perspectives on the war, from men and women to secessionists and unionists, soldiers and non-combatants, and slaves and freedpeople, among others.
Unlike the controversial proposal this past February to put Nathan Bedford Forrest on Mississippi's license plate, North Carolina is using its plate to display its inclusive themes prominently. They are stamped across the top of the plate, just underneath the URL address for the Civil War 150 committee. The plate also features an image of a Civil War artillery crew in shadow (and therefore neither "blue" nor "gray"), manning a cannon. The martial image might seem somewhat jarring when paired with committee's grand themes, but it is not surprising in light of the fact that the plate is designed to be attractive to a broad base of potential customers. Seemingly heroic, martial images likely sell well among Civil War buffs and casual observers alike, and proceeds from the sale of these plates will go right back to the Department of Cultural Resources. It's another interesting intersection of the educational imperative and the profit motive, and one that appears to have been resolved in far less controversial fashion than the above-mentioned proposal to use license plates honor Confederate "heroes" like Forrest.