This Monday marked the 150th anniversary of South Carolina's secession from the Union. To commemorate the signing of the Ordinance of Secession, a crowd of three hundred gathered at the Secession Gala in Charleston for dinner, dancing, and the singing of Confederate songs.
Not everyone shared in Monday night's questionable celebration. The South Carolina NAACP led a protest outside the ball, drawing attention to the fact that the party-goes inside were, in a sense, celebrating the South's refusal to end slavery. The Secession Gala has been a contentious topic since the beginning of the week, resulting in an out pour of disdain for the celebration and minimal defense.
- No Acknowledgment of Slavery The celebration included a re-enactment of the secession convention that emphasized extensive tariffs as the the major motive for South to split from the rest of the country. "The topic of slavery," The New York Times' Blain Roberts and Ethan J. Kytle note, "was simply glossed over. The rub, of course, is that the one freedom that was capable of uniting white South Carolinians behind secession in the fall of 1860 was the freedom to own slaves. Yet this was the only argument that Confederate enthusiasts at Gaillard Auditorium were unwilling to consider. Instead, they danced around history far into the night."
- 'A Slap In The Face' Nadra Kareem at Change.org thinks that a celebration of the start of the civil war downplays the significance of slavery. "Events that glorify the Confederate role in the war without examining slavery are a slap in the face to African Americans," Kareem writes. "When Southerners recognize the past, they must recognize all of it. Ask the South Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans to sit down with the NAACP to learn how to commemorate the Civil War in a way that doesn't ignore the reality of slavery."
- The Difference Between Then and Now Monday's Secession Ball was meant to relive the events of the day the Ordinance of Secession was signed--a day that included celebration and dancing. But Emily Badger at Miller-McCune points out that 150 years ago, those celebrating were not aware of the death and destruction the Ordinance of Secession would lead to. The people celebrating in 2010 are aware of the outcome.
Scholars today are mostly of one mind about why South Carolina seceded and what caused the war. But Americans, even a century and a half later, still deeply disagree with each other and historians, many of them embracing a Civil War story about self-government and "states' rights" that reveals more about America in 2010 than what actually occurred in the 1860s.
This disconnect between scholarship and public memory has traced a curious evolution over past 150 years, and now on the eve of the sesquicentennial, it threatens to complicate any honest national conversation about the significance of the war's anniversary.
- War Is Not Something to Celebrate In the days leading up to the anniversary, the pages of South Carolina's The State newspaper were filled with appeals for and against the celebration. The editors pointed out that other significant days that initiated or ended war--such as Pearl Harbor, D-Day, 9/11 or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki--are commemorated so as not to forget, but they are not celebrated. "Even if you believe that South Carolina was justified in waging war on the United States, or that the motives for secession were noble--and we do not--there is nothing about our state's involvement in the Civil War to celebrate," they write. "Because so many died--many fighting bravely for what they believed to be a just cause--we must memorialize their loss. Because the war so utterly devastated our state, we must never forget it. Because it was the transformational event in our nation's history, we must commemorate it. Because those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, we must remember.We must not celebrate."
- 'I Just Don't Get It' A few days after The State's editorial, The State's associate editor Warren Bolton put forth a personal piece echoing the sentiments of the others who took issue with the Secessionist Ball. "I just don't get it. And I never will," he proclaims. "What's so joyous about a state that thrived off the enslavement and degradation of human beings deciding to withdraw from a contract to live under a common union just to continue those mean-spirited, malicious and evil acts? What's there to dance about? What's there to celebrate? What, pray tell, is there to get dressed up and prance around about? What's there to be proud of?"
- A Proud Day for South Carolina W. Eric Emerson, though, argued--also at The State--for the day's significance in South Carolina's history. He wrote:
The creation and adoption of the Ordinance of Secession marks perhaps the only time that South Carolina’s politicians fundamentally and forever shaped the future of our nation and world. The 150th anniversary of this document’s drafting and signing on Dec. 20 provides us with an excellent opportunity to explore exactly how this occurred and to reshape long-held notions regarding the document’s place in our state’s past and future.
- We Still Haven't Learned from the Civil War's Mistakes Rmuse at PoliticusUSA agrees that the anniversary of the start of the civil war "should be a time to reflect on the disastrous turn of events that ripped America apart with a view toward never taking that terrible path again." The blogger makes a connection between the Southern states that chose to secede out of opposition to the Federal government and recently elected politicians who also tend to be against the Fed:
It is disheartening that 150 years after the Civil War there is still a large part of America that is willing to break the country apart over issues that were settled in the courts and on the battlefield. The issue of a state's right to ignore federal laws has been settled, and still, it seems that it is the South that cannot grasp the concept of the Supremacy clause or civil rights. ... It is more disturbing that groups like the Tea Party from all the states feel justified in rebelling against the Federal government with encouragement from Republicans in positions of power and authority.