July 4 and Vicksburg or Who is a Southerner?
Chris Waldrep’s fine study of the Vicksburg campaign and historical memory was recently reviewed at H-Net. Apparently, the reviewer repeated the old tale that because of the date of the surrender residents of the city refused to celebrate July 4th after the war. Waldrep’s response:
I would like to clarify one small matter, however. It is not true that the date of the surrender "kept Vicksburg citizens from celebrating Independence Day until the mid-twentieth century." I documented numerous celebrations of the Fourth of July by white and black people in Vicksburg between 1863 and 1945. It is a myth that Vicksburgers did not celebrate the Fourth. I even found the origins of this false story in the records of the National Park Service. In 1945 the NPS superintendent in Vicksburg generated the story that Vicksburgers had not been celebrating the Fourth as a way of attracting press publicity for the park. It worked. [Click here for Alexander Mendoza’s review.]
I will also point out that according to the 1860 census 6,896 whites lived in Warren County with 13,800 black people. Does it really make sense to think that the majority black population would refuse to celebrate the day they were emancipated?
Well, it does make sense given our tendency to define our terms narrowly and in a way that draws a necessary connection between southerner and white. What is most disturbing is the fact that the NPS was responsible for this story.