His recent post on the North South Trader Magazine's editorial got me thinking. He cherry picked quotes from that publication's missive. At first, it appears he is (thankfully) just avoiding a dry list of films from the 1960s. But Williams curiously leaves a tantalizing paragraph out from his quotation of Stephen Silva's editorial. I include it here:
"As a matter of fact, nothing could have been more educational and influential than the positive effect the Centennial had on the American consciousness. I believe it is that awareness that helped the average American become sensitive to the civil rights issues of the early 1960s. Our national immersion in portrayals of the past made the inequalities of the 1960s that much more evident. I believe the Centennial “celebration” is directly responsible for creating an atmosphere of awareness and embarrassment that made the Civil Rights Movement acceptable to the average white American. For anyone to dismiss the Centennial as a series of jubilant mock-battle funfests does a grave disservice to truth." (emphasis added)
I'm not sure why Mr. Williams left out this paragraph. I would hope it is because he sees the very tenuous ground that Silva is standing upon. Nonetheless, I am not here to criticize Williams, but instead Silva's conception that the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s drew its motivation from the Civil War Centennial activities. Not to put too fine a point on it, I think this is horse hockey, plain and simple.
|Martin Luther King and his supporters during their |
March on Washington in this Time / Life Image
But 1963, the heart of the Centennial celebration, the presumed inspiration for white and black cooperation during the Civil Rights Movement, beget another bold stand on a set of steps a few months earlier. George Wallace, Governor of Alabama, stood on the steps of the University of Alabama's Foster Auditorium and denied entry to black students seeking an education. When Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard and forced the school's integration, Wallace declared that the, "unwelcomed, unwanted, unwarranted and force-induced intrusion upon the campus of the University of Alabama today of the might of the Central Government offers frightful example of the oppression of the rights, privileges and sovereignty of this State by officers of the Federal Government."
Just a few weeks later, in Pennsylvania, Wallace would make another strong appearance. I am not going to steal Jake's thunder (he has promised me he will share the story at a later date) but, suffice it to say, Wallace utilizes the hysteria and the latent racist sentiment among the Confederate reenactors at Gettysburg to his distinct advantage, nearly inciting a secession rally in Pitzer's Woods.
letter to the Editor of the Gettysburg Times in late June of 1963, just a week after his stunt in Alabama. It was published in the paper's battle centennial edition. Wallace praised the, "checks and balances within the framework of our governmental system," for which, he emphasized, "millions of Americans have fought and died." Wallace urged his readers to, "resist regimentation." In direct reaction to the Civil Rights standoff of the previous week, Wallace employed the Civil War centennial as a soapbox for hatred and not as an inspiration to change. The sacrifices of the war's dead demanded that America not travel down the Civil Rights movement's "dead-end road of destructive centralization." Just a few days after Wallace appeared in Gettysburg for the centennial, the Times ran an AP article with the headline, "Wallace Sees U.S. On Brink Of Civil War," wherein Wallace threatened that if Kennedy continued trying to support the Civil Rights struggle, he should withdraw American troops from Vietnam for their use in the American South.
|Eisenhower surveys members of Gettysburg High |
School's Civil War Club in this Time / Life Image
|Universal Studio's newsreel of the event|
leaves out any sign of strife or disagreement
among the day's speakers.
So did the centennial of the Civil War inspire the Civil Rights movement? Definitely. King and Rhodes show that quite handily. But was it the reenactments and John Wayne's movies which inspired a white audience to come to the aid of the Civil Rights movement? Or was the Centennial instead a rallying point for a white community desperately making a last ditch effort to hold the line of status quo (typified by the active and aggressive advocacy of George Wallace)? I think I know where I land in that debate.
The Civil Rights movement have the lily white Centennial commemorations to thank for its success? Gimme a break...