We’ll Always Have the Centennial

Update: I suspect that this is not the kind of coverage that the SCV is looking for. “They started at a fountain where slaves were once sold, past the church that Martin Luther King Jr. led during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and ended at the Capitol steps, where Alabama’s old and modern history often collide. It’s the spot where former Gov. George C. Wallace proclaimed “segregation forever” in 1963 and where King concluded the historic Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march in 1965.”

Centennial Commemoration of Jefferson Davis's Swearing In Ceremony

From Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965 (Making the Modern South)by Robert J. Cook:

“The pageant took place during the week of February 12, 1961.  Attended by an estimated 50,000 people, it was a colorful affair complete with voodoo dancers and minstrels.  The accompanying brochure bore witness to the business community’s support.  One advertisement–for Montgomery Fair, former employer of the bus boycott heroine Rosa Parks–featured drawings of Civil War regalia and a southern belle and boasted that it had been central Alabama’s “leading department store” since 1868.  Another, carrying a Rebel flag, proclaimed “Winn Dixie and Kwik-Chek Show Phenomenal Growth During a Century of Progress in Dixieland.”  Spectators who paid up to five dollars a ticket watched a sixteen-segment performance by a home-grown cast numbering over a thousand.  The two-hour pageant, a combination of the spoken word, music, and dancing, began with a salute to the Belle of the Confederacy an then took viewers through the major events of the secession crisis. In a section entitled “General Davis Speaks,” the audience heard an almost verbatim staging of the Confederate president’s inaugural in which he trumpeted the cause of states’ rights and the legitimacy of secession.  On leaving the coliseum, spectators were greeted with a crashing fireworks display to mark the founding of the southern nation.  A watching journalist pronounced the whole performance a genuine “spectacular,” though he did complain that in the inauguration scene Jefferson Davis had been portrayed “as a corn-pone politician at a Black Belt party rally.” (p. 81)

  • On February 17, a large crowd gathered at Union station to welcome a local attorney who played the part of Jefferson Davis.  Upon his arrival, Davis was escorted to the Exchange where he was met by the serving chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, J. Ed. Livingston.
  • The following day a large parade was held along Dexter Ave.  Carriages contained the sitting governors of Alabama, Virginia, and Mississippi.  For the reenactment of Davis’s swearing in, Alabama governor, John Patterson played secessionist governor A.B. Moore, city commissioners Lester B. Sullivan and Frank Parks acted the parts of the original reception committee, and state circuit judge Walter B. Jones played the role of Georgian Howell Cobb to administer the oath of office.
  • That night 5,000 people attended an elaborate secession ball.
  • Governor Patterson relayed shared the following assessment with Karl Betts: “…the Centennial observance here was most outstanding.  The entire city really got in on the act, and I do not believe that I can recall more community spirit and interest in any other event.”  A member of the chamber of commerce said that he had “never seen the people of Montgomery join in anything so wholeheartedly.” (p. 82)

The Washington Post reports the following:

“This Saturday, the 150th anniversary event will bear some similarities: Hundreds of men are expected to march through the heart of Montgomery. Some will parade in Confederate gray. Some will display the controversial battle flag. On the steps of the white-domed state Capitol, an ersatz Davis will place his hand on a Bible. A band will play “Dixie.”  But so far, this year’s festivities are generating scant buy-in from city and state officials, and relatively little buzz among locals.  Mayor Todd Strange said he probably won’t attend. Randy George, president of the Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t have the event on his to-do list. The office of Gov. Robert Bentley (R) – who, like Strange and George, is white – did not respond to a query on the matter.  “I hadn’t even heard it was happening,” Rhonda Campbell, 43, the manager of a payday loan business near the parade route, said, echoing many residents interviewed last week.”

We’ll always have the Centennial.

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34 comments… add one
  • Will Stoutamire Feb 19, 2011 @ 17:22

    So much for stipulating which flags can be carried… Whoops.

    The article also mentions that this is the biggest planned SCV event of 2011. If that’s the best they can muster, their influence has really, truly declined. Come to think of it, 2011-15 will also be an interesting period to see how much less power the SCV holds in these sort of discussions compared to fifty years ago. Of course, it’ll also indicate how much less Americans in general care about the Civil War era than they did in the decades after the passing of the last survivors.

  • Scott MacKenzie Feb 19, 2011 @ 16:17

    Picture #19 depicts an SCV flag from Topeka, KS (of all places!) in front of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. I think we all know who started his ecumenical career there, and when.

    • Arleigh Birchler Feb 19, 2011 @ 18:33

      No offense meant, Scott, but I think you mean ecclesiastical. As far as I know, Dr Martin Luther King Jr was always a Baptist. I could easily be mistaken – perhaps you simply meant that his ministry extended beyond the Baptist Church and to people of all religions.

      Southeast Kansas is not all that odd of a place to find Confederates. It was the area where the slave owners settled in the early days of the Territory. The free soilers, such as my ancestors, were in the northeast part of the state. That is where the Kansas/Missouri War had its beginnings, before streading across the Mississippi to become the War Between the States.

    • Billy Bearden Feb 19, 2011 @ 20:41

      That’s correct Mr MacKenzie, it was a act of pure hatred for the Topeka Camp members to walk in front of that church! I am sure they planned it for months ! Oh my goodness! It was surely a move designed by the SCV to offend all blacks by holding a historical reenactment during Black History Month!

      A downtown shopper, Shirley Williams of Montgomery, who is black, shook her head as she walked by the parade. She said she was offended the parade occurred during Black History Month.

      Don’t forget to include the Jews too!
      “The whole celebration is akin to celebrating the Holocaust,” state NAACP President Benard Simelton said.”

      In fact the quotes in the yellow text box comes straight from a letter by Potok earlier last week. Stix and Stonz.

      Here are some facts that might not make y’all’s radar. Before the parade stepoff, 2 men were forcibly removed per request of SCV officials for attempting to pass out racist literature. A witness stated that one refused to comply and was arrested.

      At least 2 people fell out from heat prostration

      Nothing stated at today’s events were lies.

      As for your “back of the bus” comment, put in proper context PLEASE…

      The reasons for the Civil War have been widely debated, and controversy surrounded Saturday’s event because of the war’s connection to slavery. Kelley Barrow, lieutenant commander in chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, seemed to address those who criticized the celebration in his speech.”

      Barrow mentioned civil rights hero Rosa Parks, stating that while she moved from the back of the bus to the front, the “people of the Confederacy have been forced to the back of the bus.”

      Also, the reference to southern Sudan was NOT “a reason for secession” but used in the example
      that the Federal Govt has welcomed ALL secession movements from all over the world except the American south, that included the satillite countries of the USSR to Sudan. While they did mention the proposed New England threat, I prefer more modern examples like the 1940s State of Jefferson and the 1977 Martha’s Vineyard.

      Thanks for the pix. You captured my flag in one and my back in another.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 20, 2011 @ 1:49

        To say that the SCV has been “forced” to the back of the bus is a gross mischaracterization. The SCV’s preferred memory of the war no longer enjoys the same credibility that it once had. This is a result of the changing profile of local, state, and national government as well as significant changes in our understanding of the war. As far as I can tell recent decisions by the SCV has resulted in its marginalization. They have no one to blame but themselves.

        • Robert Moore Feb 20, 2011 @ 5:07

          Part of the shame in this is the stereotype that the SCV is generating for Southerners in general. While they may have no one to blame but themselves, it’s everyone else who experiences the fallout. Most certainly, at the top of that list, are those who can be truthful about the story of the Confederacy, and yet still feel unashamed to reflect on their Confederate ancestors.

          • Kevin Levin Feb 20, 2011 @ 5:19

            That’s a really good point, Robert. You should consider exploring this in a bit more detail in a future post, assuming you haven’t done so already.

        • Billy Bearden Feb 20, 2011 @ 6:46

          Not too sure if you meant to intentionally misread Barrow’s quote or not, but he wasn’t referring to the SCV , he was referring to southerners.

          I just watched “Dispicable Me” Wed nite with my 8 year old. The voices of the bad people had southern accents. In fact lots of movies and shows either have villans with British or southern dialects.

          White southerners are the only legitimate target of off color jokes. Inbred hillbilly redneck hicks.
          My children are already at a disadvantage in many social / political /educational circles. Thier crime? Born of the blood of Confederate ancestors whose decendants still reside in the south

          • Kevin Levin Feb 20, 2011 @ 6:49

            It was pretty clear to me that the speaker meant to conflate both. I share your outrage with the way that white southerners are often cast in the form of jokes and parodies. That said, I am not sure you can reduce it to a question of some connection with Confederate ancestors. For one, consider the way in which whites in the Appalachian region are often represented in popular culture. I certainly don’t allow any of these generalizations in my classroom.

            • Robert Moore Feb 20, 2011 @ 6:53

              Oh, and that’s another good point, Kevin. Not only am I a descendant of men who wore gray, but also from the Appalachian region. I’m disadvantaged by neither, nor am I ashamed of being a descendant of either.

            • Arleigh Birchler Feb 20, 2011 @ 7:54


              I am glad you do not allow any of these generalizations in the classroom. I got in touch again with the African American man who specializes in studying the Underground Railroad, and who is a member of the SCV. I still need to get hold of the African American physician who re-enacts with Confederates as a slave. She is very pro-Confederate.

              Since so many of you are descendents of Confederate soldiers, do you belong to the SCV? If so, how are you helping to change the current leadership? If not, do you really think you are justified in condemning them?

              • Kevin Levin Feb 20, 2011 @ 7:56

                As far as I am concerned their membership in the SCV is irrelevant. The SCV makes claims about history and how we ought to remember the past and that makes them open to a critical evaluation. It certainly hasn’t stopped me.

              • Robert Moore Feb 20, 2011 @ 8:03

                “Since so many of you are descendents of Confederate soldiers, do you belong to the SCV?”

                Been there, done that… and didn’t need to continue in the pursuit of heritage at the expense of history.

              • Will Stoutamire Feb 20, 2011 @ 9:32

                Because I don’t believe in what the organization stands for, historically or today, nor do I feel the need to join any heritage organization. There is no law saying I must join the SCV in order to have respect for my ancestry.

              • Andy Hall Feb 20, 2011 @ 9:47

                I’ve been asked several times to join. (That was before I started blogging, though; I doubt I’ll be asked again anytime soon.) I didn’t join at the time because I couldn’t stomach the SCV’s strident denial of the issue of slavery in the coming of the war, and particularly its position on the Confederate Battle Flag, which rejects any consideration or acknowledgment of the legitimate views of others, based on very real, within-living memory history. The members I interacted with personally were decent and well-intentioned folks, but also astonishingly tone-deaf culturally, and prone to accept, without question, any ludicrous “historical” interpretation or assertion that popped up in their e-mail.

                Since that time, the problem has gotten worse, not better. The SCV’s leadership is more shrill, and (it seems to me) less tolerant of dissenting views within the membership. I’m not willing to have my name on the membership roster of such an organization, and quite honestly, I don’t think they want me, either.

                • Arleigh Birchler Feb 20, 2011 @ 9:58

                  I believe you are correct, Andy. From what I have been able to see the SCV leadership has been taken over by folks with an agenda much larger then honoring Confederate ancestors. I have been somewhat aware of this for the last seven or eight years. As a result, many folks have left the SCV, further narrowing its outlook and view.

                  I believe that the SCV still accepts anyone whose ancestor can be shown to have rendered a service to the Confederate Army. Last I heard that specifically included slaves who were forced to build fortifications. By taking the “Black Confederate” theme at its word, a large number of African-Americans are eligible to join, and to have a vote in what the SCV does, and what direction it moves.

                  • Robert Moore Feb 20, 2011 @ 10:12

                    At one time, I would even say that if you could give a last name to your dog, the SCV would take him as a member, if you could show lineage to a Confederate ancestor… sight unseen. Doesn’t matter, the dog is another number.

                    In my experience, there were quite a few who, when taking the initial “raise your hand” statement upon induction in the SCV, couldn’t name the person under whom they were joining, let alone the unit. It’s a membership free-for-all, and as long as one wants to hand over the cash for membership (even if it is only to get that license plate with a Confederate flag on it… yehaw!), they’ll take you as a member. Numbers mean everything.

                    That said, there are those who don’t think in harmony with the “higher command”. In my opinion, action means everything. You may disagree, but if you sign-up and/or continue to renew, your buying into the whole charade.

                    • Arleigh Birchler Feb 20, 2011 @ 10:33

                      But the license plate looks so good next to the Barak Obama bumper sticker …

          • Robert Moore Feb 20, 2011 @ 6:51

            That is such a cop-out, Mr. Beardon. I’m a Southerner, and directly descended from eight who wore gray. Disadvantaged because of it? Not in the least bit. One only becomes disadvantaged, in relation to Confederate heritage, when he/she misrepresents that heritage, and it is obvious that he/she doesn’t know what he/she is talking about. That is what creates the butt of jokes, not the actual heritage itself or the dialect.

          • Will Stoutamire Feb 20, 2011 @ 7:06

            Mr. Bearden, being born of the blood of Confederate ancestors has nothing to do with it. Misrepresenting that history might put you at a disadvantage, but only because each successive generation seems to increasingly reject the remaining proponents of the Lost Cause. But that is a decision that you make, not something you are inherently born with.

            Wherever I go, I tell people about my family history – I’m proud of it. Sure, I get some good natured ribbing about being a Southerner and having Confederate ancestors, but no more or less than I rib my colleagues about being “Yankees.” The war ended 146 years ago, after all. At no point have I ever been discriminated against because of my ancestry.

            • Robert Moore Feb 20, 2011 @ 7:36

              Me too, Will. Most of mine rode with Ashby, and later the “Laurel Brigade”, while some other uncles and cousins served in the Stonewall Brigade. It’s pretty amazing to think about it all, and cool to reflect on these fellows. I even joke with one fellow who had an ancestor captured in the Beefsteak Raid, that my people may have been the ones who nabbed his ancestor. There’s no shame associated with all that, just keep it real. They knew what they wanted, and why they were there. That was their “cause” then. We’re no more than descendants of those people, and not their “cause”. Times are different now… thank God.

              • Will Stoutamire Feb 20, 2011 @ 9:39

                Robert, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Thanks for the response. Since we’re sharing stories, my paternal greatx3 grandfather was a private in the 5th Florida Cavalry Battalion, fighting around his home in Tallahassee. Family stories claim he was at Olustee and Natural Bridge, but records are rather scarce. From what we can tell, he spent most of his time at home on the plantation (overseeing his eight slaves, three of whom we believe to have been his children) and only came out to fight when Union troops threatened the capitol.

                It was indeed his cause, not mine, and he very clearly was fighting in defense of home and personal “property.” Recognizing that, I still have no problem smiling and cleaning up his tombstone when we visit the family plot. He is family, warts and all.

          • Andy Hall Feb 20, 2011 @ 11:02

            Being “born of the blood of Confederate ancestors” is an accident of birth that confers neither honor nor shame on those living today. It’s not as if they, or we, had any say in who we’re related to.

            I’m glad I have scads of Civil War ancestors, because it allows me a structure for my historical research and an opportunity to hone my genealogical chops — skills that come in handy when digging into the lives of people I’m not related to. But it neither imparts some magical nobility to me, nor gives me particular insight into the thoughts and motivations of those long-dead men and women, absent actual, contemporary documentation.

            I don’t particularly like it when Southerners as a group are characterized by unflattering stereotypes. But I also refuse to accept that I personally fit that stereotype, or that anyone who actually knows me thinks I do, so the sting is limited.

            In his classic wartime memoir Up Front!, the late soldier/cartoonist Bill Mauldin talked about how he regularly got grief for portraying certain types of officers as cowardly, selfish or incompetent. He said it never worried him much because the officers he met who weren’t cowardly, selfish or incompetent never complained, because they understood that his cartoons were not about them. He said (close paraphrase), “I build a shoe, and if some fool wants to pull it on and loudly proclaim to all the world that it fits, that’s his problem.”

            I think the same principle applies to stereotyped criticism of Southerners, as well as criticism (by me and others) of the SCV and the Southron Heritage™ movement: it’s only as true as you make it. And above all, stop doing and saying things that make y’all look ridiculous. Kevin’s list this morning of the SCV’s “debacles” from 2010 — a characterization with which I largely agree — represent, every one of them, an unforced error on the part of the SCV.

            • Billy Bearden Feb 21, 2011 @ 15:22

              Arrrggghhhh! Sigh….

              In some places in society, southern accents are frowned on. Some schools have classes specifically to eliminate traces of that and other dialect, so as to be more ‘business friendly”

              Obviously, the liberal media and associated support systems automatically decries Confederate soldiers as traitorsnazisterroristsantiamerican et al ad nauseum.

              I have the role of a parent. I have no idea where my children will go when they leave the nest. Should they venture out into THAT world, they would have to be subject to anti southern stereotypes and silent/open bigotry. Certainly I have taught them that they have Confederate ancestors, and that Family is something to be valued and defended.

              I would certainly deem that a disadvantage regardless how you laugh it off

              • Kevin Levin Feb 21, 2011 @ 15:23

                Are you really being laughed at here, Billy?

        • Michael C. Lucas Feb 21, 2011 @ 15:53

          To say that the SCV has been “forced” to the back of the bus is a gross mischaracterization. Is in fact a mischaracterization. They can certainly blame your negative attention.

          • Kevin Levin Feb 21, 2011 @ 15:57

            My negative attention? Really? Are you seriously assigning that much influence to this site?

  • Scott MacKenzie Feb 19, 2011 @ 12:37
    • Kevin Levin Feb 19, 2011 @ 12:41

      Thanks Scott.

  • Scott MacKenzie Feb 19, 2011 @ 11:56

    I was there. Its content ought to surprise no one – the usual neo-Confederate text justifying secession while omitting even a single reference to slavery or to race. I nearly choked when the speaker mentioned the words “back of the bus.” Another used the example of the Southern Sudan as a reason for secession. As a recent (this past Thursday) ABD, I lost count of how many historical errors the ceremony committed. No doubt that the BBC and ZDF (German TV) reporters there had a field day too.

    The turn out was impressive, with several hundred coming to the Alabama Capitol. Many, young and old, came in costume. Confederate flags were in abundance, but only one person noticed my small cardboard sign reading “UNIONIST”. The biggest surprise by far was the presence of a black woman, dressed in costume, as part of the ceremony. I managed to take a couple of pictures of her from afar. If anyone has more information about her, please pass it along. Aside from her, the only African Americans in attendance were from the media.

    I’ll try to create a Flickr page of pictures as soon as I can.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 19, 2011 @ 11:59

      Thanks for the update, Scott. Let me know when you get the Flickr page set up.

  • Larry Cebula Feb 19, 2011 @ 9:01

    The main thing we are learning from the sesquicentennial is how far our nation has come since 1961.

    We may or may not learn something about the Civil War as well!

  • Arleigh Birchler Feb 19, 2011 @ 8:22

    Here is another event folks can attend:


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