Certain segments of the population in Georgia and across the South are preparing to celebrate next year's 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Some groups, such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans, say the goal is to ensure that modern-day Americans don't forget what the Confederate troops were fighting for.
For a good ole Southern boy like me who grew up in Fayetteville, N.C., in the 1950s, what the Civil War was all about was never out of sight or mind.
How could it have been when the dominant feature of my downtown was the old slave market, now recast as the "City Market"? When the local Sears store had separate restrooms and drinking fountains for "white ladies" and "colored ladies"? When my downtown movie theater would let blacks sit only in the balcony? When the only black faces in my elementary school were those of cafeteria workers and cleaning people?
That's not to say I don't recall some wonderful vestiges of that era. I still remember fondly the mournful rendition of "Dixie" that was the sign-off song for the local television station (yes, television broadcasts ended at midnight back then). And to this day, I have a certain fascination with Atlanta's kitschy Cyclorama, the in-the-round painting (supposedly the world's largest) that depicts the first day of the Battle of Atlanta — and is being "refreshed" for the upcoming anniversary.
With all those memories, imagine this good ole boy's surprise at the recent series of ads on local television by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The SCV ads attempt to recast the Civil War as some sort of Tea Party struggle against an "illegal invasion" by the federal government. "Too many in your time want to tell lies about us and the reasons we went to war," declares the SCV in a video clip on its website that recasts the Civil War as the "Second American Revolution." "All we wanted was to be left alone to govern ourselves," says one ad from the group's Georgia Division. Omitted is the inconvenient truth that a substantial portion of our pre-Civil War population lived its life in chains.
The war, as anyone with access to a history book can tell you, got its official start on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces attacked the U.S. military base at Fort Sumter, S.C. Earlier, seven states had declared their secession from the Union in advance of the March inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln, whose Republican Party had campaigned against expanding slavery beyond its then-current boundaries. Yes young 'uns, hard as it is to believe, there once was a time when Republicans were opposed to oppressing the poor and minorities.
As 2011 unfolds, it will be interesting to see who sides with the SCV in its effort to rewrite a history as well-documented as that of the Civil War. I'd like to think that the SCV will have as much luck recasting that ugly period in the United States as have the deniers of the Holocaust and the Communists of the old Soviet Union in their own quixotic crusades against the truth. On the other hand, it might be wise for me to take up whistling "Dixie" again — and embark on a new study of the War of Northern Aggression.