We are rapidly approaching the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, America’s ‘bloodiest, deadliest, and most unresolved conflict.’
And while some are planning solemn commemorations of the lives lost or looking back at the fact that we’re still not talking about this country’s unresolved race issues, some groups are planning to celebrate the legacy of the Confederate South… without ever mentioning that their biggest beef with the North was over the right to own slaves.
And yet, as the 150th anniversary of the four-year conflict gets under way, some groups in the old Confederacy are planning at least a certain amount of hoopla, chiefly around the glory days of secession, when 11 states declared their sovereignty under a banner of states’ rights and broke from the union.
The events include a “secession ball” in the former slave port of Charleston (“a joyous night of music, dancing, food and drink,” says the invitation), which will be replicated on a smaller scale in other cities.
A parade is being planned in Montgomery, Ala., along with a mock swearing-in of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy.
In addition, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and some of its local chapters are preparing various television commercials that they hope to show next year. “All we wanted was to be left alone to govern ourselves,” says one ad from the group’s Georgia Division.
“We in the South, who have been kicked around for an awfully long time and are accused of being racist, we would just like the truth to be known,” said Michael Givens, commander-in-chief of the Sons, explaining the reason for the television ads.
While there were many causes of the war, he said, “our people were only fighting to protect themselves from an invasion and for their independence.”
“I can only imagine what kind of celebration they would have if they had won,” said Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina N.A.A.C.P.
He said he was dumbfounded by “all of this glamorization and sanitization of what really happened.”
When Southerners refer to states’ rights, he said, “they are really talking about their idea of one right — to buy and sell human beings.”
The secession events are among hundreds if not thousands that will unfold over the next four years in honor of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial.
“We don’t know what to commemorate because we’ve never faced up to the implications of what the thing was really about,” said Andrew Young, a veteran of the civil rights movement and former mayor of Atlanta.
“The easy answer for black folk is that it set us free, but it really didn’t,” Mr. Young added. “We had another 100 years of segregation. We’ve never had our complete reconciliation of the forces that divide us.”
Jeff Antley, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Confederate Heritage Trust, is organizing the secession ball in Charleston and a 10-day re-enactment of the Confederate encampment at Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the war were fired on April 12, 1861.
“We’re celebrating that those 170 people risked their lives and fortunes to stand for what they believed in, which is self-government,” Mr. Antley said.
“Many people in the South still believe that is a just and honorable cause. Do I believe they were right in what they did? Absolutely,” he said, noting that he spoke for himself and not any organization. “There’s no shame or regret over the action those men took.”
Do you think the Civil War should be celebrated? In the South especially??