Controversy continues to swirl as the 150th anniversary of the Civil War nears in 2011.
Story by Wayne Washington, “Celebrate or Commemorate: Debate Rages over Civil War Anniversary, The State, December 16, 2010:
Organizers of Civil War anniversary events sought Wednesday to distance themselves from a ball being held Monday to celebrate secession.
“I won’t be going,” Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said after a news conference held at the Historic Charleston Foundation’s headquarters on East Bay Street, where the mayor and those organizing events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War underscored their desire to bring attention to historic events without celebrating the war.
The Secession Ball, organized by the Confederate Heritage Trust and sponsored in part by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, is scheduled to be held on Monday in Charleston’s Gaillard Auditorium. The ball will feature a 45-minute play re-enacting the signing of the Ordinance of Secession before a gathering of party-goers wearing period clothes.
Charleston S.C. in ruins
/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Riley said the 150th anniversary of the war is “not a celebration.”
“There’s nothing to celebrate,” Riley said. “It was a huge tragedy.”
Riley said he is not concerned the ball will cloud efforts to have inclusive events that do not celebrate the Confederacy. “It’s not a sanctioned event,” he said of the ball. “It’s a private activity. America is a country that recognizes and respects differences.”
Efforts to reach ball organizers Wednesday were unsuccessful. Randy Burbage, listed on the Confederate Heritage Trust’s Web site as its vice president, said when contacted he could not speak for the organization.
The National Parks Service and the Fort Sumter/Fort Moultrie Trust, as well as a slew of other groups, are holding a variety of events to commemorate the start of the war.
Leaders of those groups emphasized on Wednesday they have no control over the actions of private groups.
The Fort Sumter/Fort Moultrie Trust said, in a news release, the Trust “has not supported or contributed to the Secession Ball as the Trust does not see it as part of its mission.”
“One of the stated purposes of the ball is to celebrate a ‘joyous’ occasion when South Carolina seceded from the Union,” said the Trust’s statement. “The Trust cannot join in that celebration as a fair reading of the Declaration of Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina adopted by the Secession Convention shows that the cause for secession rested on the North’s hostility to slavery and its refusal, among other things, to enforce the fugitive slave laws.”
The Trust’s Web site links to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a secession ball sponsor that disputes the Trust’s reading of history.
In its press release, the Trust said, “Because we disagree on some points does not mean the Trust cannot find common ground on others.”
Trust president Robert Rosen said his organization wants to “work with groups in a constructive manner,” ensuring all points of view — including Confederate points of view —- have a chance to be aired.
Rosen said there is no single set of facts regarding the war, complicating efforts to understand it and making it more important for all sides to be heard. “Who owns the story?” Rosen asked rhetorically. “It’s not one story.”
Before Wednesday’s news conference, representatives of different organizations held a meeting to discuss the logistics of what will be a five-year period of events tied to war’s anniversary.
Of the roughly 40 people who participated in that meeting, only a handful were African-Americans. One, Michael Allen of the National Parks Service, oversaw the meeting, repeatedly saying the goal of the events is to educate and bring people together.
He said the upcoming events won’t bear similarities to those in 1961, when the 100th anniversary of the war’s start became a point of Southern nostalgia. “We’re on the road to a different commemoration,” Allen said.
Another African-American participant, Janie Harriot, vice chairwoman of the S.C. African American Heritage Commission, thinks the events will be a net positive for the state. “We will come out of this commemoration with a better South Carolina, and we will have some healing as South Carolinians.”