The Civil War Centennial 1961-1965

This paper discusses that the Civil War Centennial observance, during the height of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, further galvanized the conflict between the “black and white” racial groups, especially in the South.

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This paper explains that the Civil War carries a strong symbolic significance. Among Southern whites, many tend to identify culturally with the “Southern identity” and the defeat of the Confederacy; among black citizens the Civil War brings an even stronger emotional and ideological reaction because they consider the war to be the pivotal struggle to end slavery in the United States. The author relates that, perhaps, the event, which most strongly symbolizes the reaction of “culturally Southern” whites, was that surrounding the “raising of the Confederate flag” over the Capitol building in South Carolina. The paper questions whether the “celebration” of the Civil War was a good idea, given the concept of “celebrating” a war as necessarily divisive as a civil war, and given its affect on the social, racial, and political climate of the 1960s.
“That the South chose to “unfurl” the confederate flag, as the symbol of the meaning of the Civil War as it applied to their “identity”, and to bar black delegates from participating in the Centennial. The Northern states chose to reenact battles (Kansas, Wisconsin, and Missouri) among others, embark on “educational programs” and stage parades, giving some credence to the widely held notion that the Centennial was “more a Northern than a Southern celebration”. Further, in addition to the divisive racial controversies that emerged in the Centennial, many believed that the Centennial “demonstrated the increasing commercialization and trivialization of the memory of the war” “.