Expand Lake County Civil War Days to include black history, candidates say

Unspecified threats led to the cancellation last year of the long-running Civil War Days at the Lakewood Forest Preserve, but it is expected to be back this summer.

What should the Lake County Forest Preserve District consider for the return of the two-day re-enactment and associated elements?

Incumbent Steve Carlson and challenger Greg Garner, who are competing for their party's nomination in the District 7 county/forest preserve board, discussed the scenarios during an endorsement interview with the Daily Herald.

Carlson of Grandwood Park, a retired consultant in medical data analysis, has held the seat since 2002 and is seeking a sixth term.

He is challenged in the March 17 primary by Gurnee Trustee Greg Garner, a retired pharmaceutical salesman. Garner was appointed to the village board in 2005 and then elected to four consecutive terms.

After running for 27 years, Civil War Days was abruptly canceled by board President Angelo Kyle. He briefly reinstated the event after input from surprised commissioners, but threats surfaced after the initial action and it again was canceled due to safety concerns.

Carlson said he lobbied to have preservation of human history included in the forest preserve's mission statement, and the district is uniquely positioned to do that through events like Civil War Days.

He said there are valid complaints about what is presented at the event, but it can be modified.

"You've got the rebel flag, which is symbolic to some people of some things, and you've got Robert E. Lee and all that," he said.

"You could emphasize the black history of this county. You could talk about Harriet Beecher Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin and you could talk about Frederick Douglass - you could have a whole subset of black culture and history that could be educational."

Carlson said threats and security became an issue after the event was canceled, but he didn't think that will be the case going forward.

"No. Because we would hold it - which would make some of the people who were making most of the threats 'happy,' for lack of a better term - and secondly we would address the issue of black history," he said.

Garner said it was a complicated issue but it should be OK to host the event with the right security and participants are operating with integrity, he said.

However, if it is known with a high percentage of certainty the event would be disrupted by "unwarranted groups," it shouldn't be held until it can be controlled, Garner said.

"Otherwise, you set up a situation where it's not safe for participants," he said.

"That's just too bad that we have to think like that. But there are groups out here and factions out here that want to disrupt, and our job is to make sure anybody attending such an event would be safe."

Diversity is important, he added, and inclusion of all peoples in the history of Lake County is a good thing.

District 7 includes portions of Gurnee, Third Lake and surrounding unincorporated areas. County board members also serve as commissioners of the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

The winner March 17 will advance to the November general election to face Democrat Carissa Casbon of Warren Township, who is running unopposed in the primary.

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