Party Time! Southerners Celebrate 150th Anniversary of the War of Northern Aggression
To mark the Civil War’s centennial 50 years ago, some whites donned Confederate uniforms or hoop skirts and paraded to sentimental notions of the Old South, partly in answer to the civil rights struggle exploding around them. Blacks quietly met apart to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation.
In Alabama, whites held beard-growing contests and mixed in speeches defying the federal government’s push for integration.
“It was a safe haven to get nostalgic about the past,” said Kristopher Teters, author of “A Contested Path: Commemorating the Civil War in 1960s Alabama.”
Half a century later, commemorations of the war’s 150th anniversary of the war’s start are shaping up to be multicultural and inclusive as a country takes new stock of its greatest domestic conflict.
Fought from 1861 to 1865, the Civil War pitted northern and southern states against each other over slavery in the South and other issues. During the war, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared slaves in the South free.
In planning for observances starting this year and continuing for at least two years, historians, scholars, artists and writers are reassessing the war with zeal, inviting fresh viewpoints on the reasons for the country’s harrowing slide into a conflict that dragged on for years, claiming more than 1 million lives.
Witness the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the state’s official theater, which has commissioned two plays for the 150th — one by a white female playwright from the South and one by a black male Northerner.
Geoffrey Sherman, producing artistic director at the festival, is himself an Englishman who knew little about the Civil War until he began gathering information for the two playwrights. He said both will use identical material about Montgomery in that period to produce their own take on those times.
“They’ll write their own view of that material and of those people and then we are going to produce those plays back to back,” Sherman promised.
In Virginia, more than 1,000 scholars and others have launched a series of historical conferences to scrutinize the war. Little-heard perspectives are welcome and no subject is barred. One conference scheduled for next year: “Race, Slavery and the Civil War: The Tough Stuff of American History.”
That more thoughtful approach will distinguish the state’s commemorations from those it held 50 years ago, said House Speaker William J. Howell, the chairman of Virginia’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. A college student during the centennial observances, Howell said he recalls hearing the cannons during a re-enactment of the Battle of Manassas.
“There’s an awful lot more to the war than just that,” Howell said.
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With more thoughtful Civil War remembrances and increasingly-crazy town hall meltdowns, The Buzz figures we're breaking about even, no?