Another factor that may affect the remembrances and should therefore be acknowledged, is that for the first time, African Americans are involved with a major Civil War anniversary on more equal footing. The centennial of the Civil War in 1961 occurred as the civil rights movement gained momentum, but segregation still dominated the South. Many events were held in segregated hotels, where blacks were not allowed to stay.
NAACP leaders also have expressed unhappiness with some upcoming events they say would glorify the Confederacy and all that it stood for. That includes plans by a private group in Montgomery, Ala. to stage a mock swearing in ceremony of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy. "From a free speech point of view, I understand their right to put that on," said Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama NAACP. "But the only thing it's going to do is incite divisiveness among people and there are much better things to spend money on than to re-enact the Civil War."
Even the Park Service may find itself targeted over its plan to commemorate the first shot fired in the war on April 12, 1861 at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Randolph said he plans to contact Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar over plans for a ceremony in which a lone blank mortar round will be fired at the fort on April 12.
"It recreates a terrorist act," Randolph said. "I can't imagine the Park Service being involved in that."
That event, said the Fort Sumter National Monument historian Rick Hatcher, also involves a dramatic star burst propelled into the sky that splits in two, symbolizing the nation divided. Bob Reynolds, a Park Service spokesman said he will reserve comment until after Randolph's complaint is received.
For most historians, the question of what caused the war was settled long ago. The United States had the largest slave population in the world. By 1860, 60 percent of South Carolina's population were slaves.
"Historians don't fight this battle anymore about what caused the war. It's slavery," said James Marten, president of the Society of Civil War Historians and chairman of the history department at Marquette University in Wisconsin. "The constitutional issues would not have caused the Civil War unless slavery had been attached to those debates," he continued. "It was an extraordinarily important institution economically, historically, and politically. Without slavery, you wouldn't have had a civil war. Maybe we've done a bad job of communicating this."
Marten sees the 150th anniversary as a teaching moment, but laments he sees "no grand narrative" about the war and its legacy that's been drawn up a national scale. "It's become so localized and so politicized. Given who the president is, and what just happened in the election, with the tea party and the debate over health care, I don't think much will change in how we understand the Civil War as a country," he said. "That's the nature of popular history and memory versus history. Memory is something that is really hard to change."
The most significant events in January of 1861 revolved around Fort Sumter in the mouth of Charleston Bay. Tomorrow I will discuss the important part this fort played in the eventual outbreak of war.
Live Long and Prosper.....