published Monday, April 18th, 2011

Civil War anniversary events draw few blacks

Kitty Evans, a re-enactor from Lancaster, S.C., discusses slave life during a recent living history event in Charleston, S.C. The National Park Service is trying to make anniversary events over the next four years more hospitable to black people.
(AP Photo/Bruce Smith)
Kitty Evans, a re-enactor from Lancaster, S.C., discusses slave life during a recent living history event in Charleston, S.C. The National Park Service is trying to make anniversary events over the next four years more hospitable to black people. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)

CHARLESTON, S.C. — As cannons thudded around Charleston Harbor last week in commemoration of the start of the war that extinguished slavery, the audiences for the 150th-anniversary events were nearly all white. Even black scholars lecturing about black Union troops and the roots of slavery gazed out mostly on white faces.

The reasons blacks stayed away are not exactly a mystery: Across Dixie, Civil War commemorations have tended to celebrate the Confederacy and the battlefield exploits of those who fought for the slaveholding South.

But the National Park Service is trying to make anniversary events over the next four years more hospitable to black people.

“We’re trying to broaden the story to go beyond the battlefields to the home front and to talk about 150 years later. If much of the reason for the war was freedom for enslaved people, how far have we come?” said Carol Shively, a spokeswoman for the Park Service sesquicentennial in the Southeast.

The anniversary of the April 12, 1861, bombardment of Fort Sumter that plunged the nation into its bloodiest war was marked in Charleston on Tuesday by hundreds of people. Only a few blacks attended a pre-dawn concert of period music or were on hand for a ceremony re-creating the first shot a few hours later. One of the black people present was a Union re-enactor who threw a wreath into the water and then saluted.

“I think it’s very painful and raw” for blacks to attend such activities, said the Rev. Joseph Darby, of Charleston, who is black and was not there for the Fort Sumter commemoration. “If you’re going to be authentic in the way you re-create it, it would be hard to filter out the triumphal air of the firing on Fort Sumter.”

On Wednesday, the Park Service sponsored events about blacks outside its Fort Sumter tour boat dock. It included lectures on slavery and on the Union 54th Massachusetts, the black unit depicted in the 1989 movie “Glory” starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. But of about 50 people attending the lectures, there was only one black, a woman who declined to be interviewed.

Celebrating with the enemy

Dot Scott, president of the Charleston chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said even such programs may not be enough to get blacks involved in 150th-anniversary events.

“It’s almost like celebrating with the enemy,” she said. “I personally began to have a feeling of ‘Why would I want to be a part of it?’”

The national NAACP has said the activities should neither romanticize the South nor ignore that slavery was the principal cause of the war. Both Scott and Darby credit the National Park Service with working hard to make events inclusive.

Including blacks

Earlier this year, the Park Service worked with Kennesaw State University in Georgia to conduct focus groups with blacks on the Civil War. Some of the participants worried that the Civil War as taught in the South reflects only the Confederate view and that the history of blacks is misinterpreted.

“We need to overcome the shame and embarrassment of slavery — to see humanity” in the stories told by the parks, one participant said.

Last week in Charleston “we presented the most historically accurate depictions of the American Civil War,” said Park Service spokeswoman Nancy Gray. “We didn’t count demographics, but we presented to the public and invited our diverse groups, and we know those who did attend learned a little more about the Civil War.”

In Charleston alone during the next four years, there will be commemorations of Robert Smalls, a slave who commandeered a Confederate steamship, of the Emancipation Proclamation, and of the retaking of Charleston by Union troops.

Joe McGill, who gave the lecture Wednesday on the 54th Massachusetts, said he wasn’t surprised by the turnout and that generally when he gives lectures, the audience is mainly white. But he thinks more blacks should attend 150th-anniversary events.

“When you have the same celebration 50 years prior to this we were a missing element ago because we were involved in a bigger fight,” he said, referring to the civil rights movement. “Now if there is an element of the story being told that we should challenge, we need to challenge those things.”

Darby, the minister, said one sure way to interest more blacks in the commemorations would be to remove the Confederate banner that has flown on the Statehouse grounds in Columbia since the Civil War centennial.

“There would be a lot of black folks who would come out if our Legislature would in 2015 officially decide the war was over and take the flag down,” he said.

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Veritas said...

To suggest that public schools in the South teach the history of the war from the Southern perspective is absurd. Does anyone reading this article remember in 1970 when the Brainerd High School Band could no longer play Dixie or display the Confederate Battle Flag at their football games? Political Correctness was alive and well 40 years ago!

April 18, 2011 at 11:50 a.m.
mella_yella said...


40 years ago Howard, Riverside were being punished, most often by threats of witholding funds and other threats, by the board of ed for allowing students to sing LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING too. The song was considered too radical and might lead to student unrest.

April 18, 2011 at 12:53 p.m.

L4F you completely miss the point of the story (as usual) when ever it comes to race issues. The organization is trying to promote inclusion of people from all backgrounds to participate in learning about history and also for history to be told from different perspectives and COMPLETE TRUTHS as to what the Civil War was about.

April 18, 2011 at 2:54 p.m.
xyzyra said...

Libertarians4Freedom said... Inclusion?

Well, Lib blacks were an intergral part of the Confederate south on many important levels, weren't they? That's not playing to anyone's sensibilities. That's FACT! Without slave labor the Confederate south would have never existed and flourished for centuries as it did. You can ignore history. You can even deny history, but it is what it is.

April 18, 2011 at 4 p.m.
chet123 said...

yeah we black would have a blast celebrating the south resisting to free our fore-father and fore-mother....we would just have a "party" celebrating the south fighting for their freedom to enslave my race in during their work while their lazy butts get rich off slaved men and women blood and sweat..we would have a "field day" thinking about 600,000 stiffs died and today these fools are debating why the war was fought...oh yeah ...we would have more fun than a "barrel of monkeies" thinking about the southern white church as they sat idle by not saying anything to the lies and propaganda coming from the southern newspaper(which one of their church member owned)yeah..we black should be "dancing in the street" to know poor white men died for the rich and greedy and have nerve enough to say...OUR WAY OF LIFE!! mmmmm remind me of today LOL LOL LOL....

April 18, 2011 at 4:44 p.m.
xyzyra said...

Libertarians4Freedom said... Free blacks actually FOUGHT for the CSA during the war, xyzyra

You mean like there were Jews who actually fought in Hitler's Army? Are you saying because of that one of the most known horrific horrors, mass extermination of a selected targeted human group, didn't happen? When asked WHYafterwards, many said they were fighting for their country.

@chet123, there were many in the south oppose to slavery as there were many in the north who condoned it or didn't care one way or the other, southern and northern clergy included.

April 18, 2011 at 6:31 p.m.
chet123 said...

look man....dont give me that crap..HE DID IT TOO!(The North) it was alright...what fool(slave) going to fight with the south so he wont have freedom for himself and family....i can see them giving my fore-parent GUNS(that butt would have gotten shot)!!!now thats really a about rewriting history..LOL LOL... the slaves hated that system.....even after the proclamation,,,the south was dead set on underminding everything the slave did to acheive independent and freedom...How insensitive...just like today...poor white people voting against their own interest because of 1964 signing of Civil Right Bill....please if you have a half a brain...connect the dots

April 18, 2011 at 10:06 p.m.
chet123 said...

There were few in the south(not many)

April 18, 2011 at 10:30 p.m.
chioK_V said...

For a any white southerner to openly oppose slavery in the south meant an immediate death wish, usually by hanging. Take the case of the southern white boy who impregnated a female slave. He immediately admitted to the deed and was instantly hanged for damaging massah's property. His offspring from that one union, along with the story, is still told today.

April 19, 2011 at 12:38 p.m.
chet123 said...

since the working class white people was in majority....who there to overwhelm him..noooo..they dont tell the truth..i know the southern church preach in favor of slavry......the ex-slave left record....some of them could write.....boss man didnt know they were recording for their stop any reversion...a little reversion going on here

April 21, 2011 at 5:49 p.m.

Black's aint got no time to be tripping on a war that happened years ago because they are in a war right now and that war is called 'Slanging Dope'.

April 30, 2011 at 1:38 p.m.
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