Thursday, April 14, 2011

A more inclusive look at the war

My whirlwind trip to Charleston, S.C., concluded around 11 a.m. yesterday in Marion Square, where young college students sunbathed, rode bikes and sipped coffee.

Above, them South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun, at the top of a tall statue, looked grimly toward the South.

The man who called slavery a "positive good" and defended states rights seemed a bit lost in time.

Musical programs and lectures I attended Monday and Tuesday showed me this was a very different Charleston that celebrated the war's centennial in 1961.

The buzz word for 2011 is "commemoration."

Speakers reiterated that secessionists really did think the war was about slavery and race. The states rights argument, they said, was built in support of slavery. I realize all of this can be argued -- and will be -- through 2015 and beyond.

In 1961, programs no doubt failed to mention the service of U.S. Colored Troops in the Union army and the toll of slavery on generations of African-Americans.

Monday night, a concert included several period tunes, including "Dixie" and the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Jay Ungar and his band performed "Ashokan Farewell," the haunting violin song that was the theme song for Ken Burns' Civil War TV series.

African-American Union re-enactors and men in Confederate gray stood together in front of the outdoor audience on a beautiful spring evening. It was a moment of real unity.

To the east across the park in the Battery, Fort Sumter glowed in red and blue.

Today, as then, the city also remembers the destruction it suffered during the war and its loss of young men to a cause in which they believed.

I was only a few years old at the time, but I can't imagine Charleston was this introspective during the centennial.

For all this, I noticed very few African-Americans at the events, parks and bombardment re-enactments I attended around Charleston this week.

It was a reminder, that although many civil rights gains were made only a few short years after the 1961 centennial, there appears to still be a racial divide in commemorating the Civil War. It would be an understatement to point out the pain that slavery and subsequent segregation brought to the African-American community.

Going forward, I hope events over the next four years will capture at least some of Charleston's spirit of reconciliation.

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