The Crossroads of Our Being: Civil War Commemorations During the “Civil Rights” MovementMorris van de Camp
Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads. — Shelby Foote
If war among the whites brought peace and liberty to the blacks, what will peace among the whites bring? — Frederick Douglass, July 1875
The centenary of the US Civil War took place as the “civil rights” movement was tearing apart the social fabric of America. The longest lasting and most damaging tear turned out to be the illicit second constitution: the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Indeed, that anti-white act was passed a century after the Union Army laid bloody siege to the Confederate towns of Petersburg, Virginia and Atlanta, Georgia, among other operations.
Historians Robert J. Cook of the University of Sussex and David Blight of Yale have both written books that specifically look at the remembrance of the Civil War during the “civil rights” movement’s height in the early 1960s. Why would any historian do this? Blight answers, “[T]he United States, to an important degree, is the stories it tells itself about its Civil War and its enduring aftermath.”
Peace among the whites
Until Reconstruction ended after the (fraudulent) 1876 election that got Rutherford B. Hayes elected President, there was genuine anger in the North towards the South. Over time, however, whites in the North got tired of sub-Saharan pathology and they came to regret the social policy of sub-Saharan uplift called Reconstruction which occurred after the war. After Reconstruction ended, the North and South reconciled, European immigrants were assimilated, and America went on to be powerful and prosperous.
In the 1950s, many of the elderly in the South still remembered Reconstruction and were quite bitter about it. There was the Lost Cause ideology, which helped unite the South politically and aligned them with the Democratic Party. By contrast, in the 1930s there were only a few diehard Union partisans left.
Two Union partisans who were sisters ran a group called the Society for Correct Civil War Information in the late 1930s and early ‘40s. The sisters were the daughters of a Union officer and felt that that the new spirit of reconciliation was undermining the accomplishments of the Union soldiers who had conquered a powerful enemy. But Union partisanship was mostly made up of eccentrics. They “exerted little impact on most northern whites, who, by the time of Pearl Harbor, either had no interest in the Civil War whatsoever, or regarded it as a tragic episode in the nation’s distant past.”
Interest in the conflict increased tremendously as the last veterans of that conflict died. The last undisputed veteran of the war, Albert Woolson of the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery, passed in 1956. (The 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery was the same unit Laura Ingalls Wilder’s uncles served in.)
In the early 1950s there was a call from historical groups and Civil War enthusiasts that ultimately bubbled up to the Eisenhower administration seeking to commemorate the great disaster. In 1957, Eisenhower signed into law the joint Congressional resolution setting up the US Civil War Centennial Commission (CWCC). The aim of the commission was to bring visitors to the national parks, some of which were Civil War battlefields; reinforce government calls for civic activism and vigilance in the face of the ongoing Cold War; and educate the American public about their ancestors’ valor.
The overriding concern was that the event would inflame sectional divisions in the United States. That matter was deftly handled by the Commission’s first two leaders, Karl S. Betts and Ulysses S. Grant III. Betts, from Kansas, had been a friend of Eisenhower’s in high school and later became a media-savvy businessman who envisioned a grand pageant that steered away from the “civil rights” movement and the slavery issue. Grant was a retired military officer who understood Southern concerns about sub-Saharan race-hustling and was thoroughly anti-Communist. Professors Blight and Cook both call Grant a “superpatriot.”
Ulysses S. Grant III’s career matched that of the brave captains of the First World War: At the start of the war he was a captain, but was promoted to major very shortly afterwards. American white advocates from 1919 until at least 1964 had very often been captains in the First World War. Both men, writes David Blight,
promoted patriotic pageantry and obedience to the wishes of Southern segregationists. The commission leadership also promoted a brothers’ war vision — a view that the conflict had been between men of equal valor and purpose, North or South — potentially pleasing, they thought, to all sides and memories.
There was one dissenting voice. Cook writes:
On June 8, 1957, Virginia Livingston-Hunt, a wealthy Washingtonian, wrote to [the Jewish, anti-white US Representative] Emanuel Celler introducing herself as a direct descendant of a Union war hero and protesting approval of the centennial measure by Celler’s House Judiciary Committee. “We are denying ourselves needed defense,” she wrote, “and also needed aid abroad for the sake of economy yet you undertake to tax us for something that is best forgotten. I have no desire to help celebrate a tragic war in which my grandfather Philip Kearny of New Jersey lost his life when my mother was just six months old. The South is only just recovering from northern devastation after ninety years. Congress is struggling with the problem of States Rights. That was exactly the same in 1861. The negro will just be further inflamed. What is the purpose; what is to be gained?”
Fanfare first, controversy later
Initially the South was not in favor of a national commemoration. The Committee was mostly made up of Northern men. Many Southerners felt the commemoration would be another opportunity for Yankees to lord it over the defeated South. Additionally, there was a recession in the late 1950s, and many felt that the money spent on a Civil War commemoration would be an unnecessary expense.
Cajoled externally by the CWCC . . . and pressed from below by a range of interested parties, southern governors ultimately concluded that it was safer to embrace the centennial than to ignore it. Respected (not to mention highly vocal) guardians of the Lost Cause such as the [United Daughters of the Confederacy] UDC and [Sons of Confederate Veterans] SCV were determined, as ever, to pay tribute to the heroism and sacrifice of their Confederate forebears. Local scholars, librarians, and archivists regarded it as an ideal opportunity to broaden their own influence and at the same time educate a southern public thirsting for knowledge about the region’s past. Businessmen and state travel officials insisted that the centennial would help to promote economic development—a goal shared by most segregationists and liberals alike.
CWCC chapters began to spring up throughout the states of the former Confederacy. In 1960 the events were met with enthusiasm. In Alabama there was an event at the state capital building where participants donned the 1860s style of dress. There were also reenactments of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s speeches and other Civil War-related events across the South.
Meanwhile, sub-Saharan race activists carried out subversive sit-ins that bordered on criminality, although in the early 1960s “civil rights” activists were for the most part still genuinely mostly peaceful. They carefully stood on the edge of legality and non-violence.
The election of 1960 changed everything. The new President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, won a narrow victory as a result of election fraud in Chicago and Texas and a phone call Kennedy had made to the wife of that Angelic African, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. while the latter was imprisoned. The call was carefully crafted to win the support of white liberals and sub-Saharans in the Northern cities yet stopped short of offending Southerners. In 1960, the Democratic Party’s base was Irish Catholics in the North and Anglo Protestants in the South, but there was also a large array of minorities and liberal activists who supported “civil rights” within the party.
Like Nixon, JFK was a moderate on “civil rights.” A case can be made that he was cold toward the movement and had subtly worked against it, voting to render the Civil Rights Act of 1957 toothless while a Senator. His book, Profiles in Courage (1956), highlighted the politicians who had desperately worked to avoid the Civil War and supported the view that Reconstruction had been a disastrous social policy. Yet, a large part of Kennedy’s coalition demanded “civil rights.”
Sub-Saharan activists and their white liberal allies understood that JFK owed them. After he was elected, the CWCC delegation from New Jersey fomented a crisis. The New Jersey delegation had one sub-Saharan, and was scheduled to attend in event in segregated Charlestown, South Carolina. They wrote to Grant and Betts to say that they didn’t wish to be separated from their black colleague. The two wrote back saying that they had no authority to change South Carolina’s laws. The New Jersey delegation then went to the Kennedy administration for help.
Kennedy intervened on the side of the New Jersey delegation, engineering a compromise whereby the delegation would be housed at the desegregated naval base near Charlestown. For its part, the South Carolina legislature flew the Confederate Battle Flag over the state capital building. Its purpose was to attract Civil War tourists, but it also represented Southern resistance to the various “civil rights” measures that were being proposed at the time.
The New Jersey delegation’s desegregationist stand soon exploded in the national media. Pro- and anti-segregationists squared off in editorials. The resulting unpleasantness let to a minor cut in funding and divided the CWCC over “civil rights” issues. Pro-“civil rights” liberals eventually engineered Betts’ dismissal in August 1961. They didn’t attack him on the basis of his racially conservative views, but claimed he was poorly handling matters. After Betts’ dismissal, Ulysses S. Grant III resigned and the CWCC subtly shifted toward the Cold War liberal position. Allen Nevins, a historian with connections to Adlai Stevenson and a Kennedy supporter, became head of the CWCC and remained so until its work was concluded.
The Centennial celebrations continued. Tennessee Ernie Ford released a record of Union and Confederate Civil War songs in 1961, and there was a well-received fireworks display at Fort Sumter simulating the bombardment that started the war. In Vicksburg, Mississippi the local CWCC committee made a point of praising the Union men’s valor. In the North there were many pageants, and enthusiasm for the Commemoration was as great as in the South.
There was a reenactment of the war’s first major engagement, the Battle of First Manassas (known as First Bull Run in the North), that was successful with the public, but it was shredded by the media, who saw the affair as the commercialization of a dreadful event. This was part of a larger controversy within the CWCC. Its promoters such as Betts had believed commercialization and money-making was the Commemoration’s primary aim, while others felt the event should be more scholarly and solemn.
The “civil rights” response
Aside from the desegregation stunt pulled by the liberal whites in the CWCC’s New Jersey delegation, sub-Saharan “civil rights” activists didn’t initially recognize the potential of using history as a weapon, as the segregations did. But once the use of history by white advocates in the various CWCC state committees became apparent, sub-Saharan race activists began pushing their own counter-narrative of the Civil War.
Their initial main effort focused on celebrations of emancipation alongside voter registration drives. Voter registration was a major cause of the “civil rights” movement and many young, idealist white liberals participated. One of the CWCC’s white Southern historians, Bell Wiley, supported black participation in the Commemoration. Wiley’s 1938 book Southern Negroes, 1861-1865 had been one of the first works in the field of Afro-American history.
The celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation was a cause for concern among Southerners. By 1962, “civil rights” agitation was increasing. The Kennedy administration and their CWCC point man, Nevins, were sensitive to Southern concerns and recast the Emancipation commemoration on September 22, 1962 as a direct appeal to the non-white world to fight against Communism, mostly ignoring any domestic “civil rights” messaging. Few North American-based sub-Saharans were present at the event, and some sub-Saharan ministers even urged a boycott.
President Kennedy did not personally attend. Adlai Stevenson gave the keynote address, making some nods to “civil rights” but focusing his speech on the need to fight the Cold War. In the early 1960s, all but the Segregationists believed that the newly decolonized nations in Africa would be valuable allies in the conflict; globalist and liberal elites did not realize that Africa south of the Sahara was imploding until after 1980. Mahalia Jackson sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
The Proclamation’s commemoration brought about a split between white liberals on the CWCC and the radical sub-Saharan activists. Cook writes:
In their private correspondence, CWCC officials revealed their hostility toward rising black assertiveness, derisively referring to Bishop Williams as “De Law’d” and “Holy Daddy” and denigrating both the standard of Mahalia Jackson’s performance and her allegedly exorbitant claim for expenses. Their temper was not improved by criticism of the ceremony in the black press. The Baltimore Afro-American, for example, described it as “a sordid example of white supremacist thinking,” the CWCC having “thought it would be just dandy if colored Americans were restricted with the old plantation pattern of singing and dancing.”
The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. (and his handlers) used the Commemoration to advance “civil rights” aims. Many of his allusions to the Civil War in his speeches were inspired by the ongoing commemorative events.
The Civil War Centennial Commemoration fizzles
As the 1960s progressed, the CWCC’s celebrations started to fizzle out. Part of the reason for this was its shift from pageantry to scholarship. After Karl Betts was fired, spectacles designed to attract the public were dropped and the CWCC became dry and professorial.
In the North, New Englanders were always quite apathetic toward the CWCC, but the rest of the North was as excited as the South. In both regions, interest declined after the first year. Events in the present, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and JFK’s assassination, overwhelmed much of the interest in the events of the previous century. Nonetheless, the CWCC remained a cultural force in its own way. Many good movies and books were produced due to renewed interest in the conflict, most of which depicted the conflict as a brothers’ war. The children who came of age during the Commemoration were particularly attracted by the story of the Civil War, and some of them went on to become historians, reenactors, or authors in their own right.
The counter-narrative generated by the CWCC’s sub-Saharan detractors claimed that blacks were being oppressed by the propagation of glorifying images of the Confederacy. This current grew in strength in the decades to come, culminating in the George Floyd riots, which saw many flags, statues, and monuments to the Old South destroyed.
History is a weapon
In 1956, Kennedy viewed the radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens as a villain, but by 1961, his staff had grown more sympathetic to the Reconstructionist Congressman, especially since the Kennedy administration and the Democratic Party were pushing for “civil rights” against the wishes of their white constituents in the South. But by 1968, many Northern whites saw Jefferson Davis and the Southern Fire-Eaters as heroes after four years of sub-Saharan rioting in the cities of Michigan, Illinois, and elsewhere. History is a weapon.
Today, the “civil rights” story is every bit as romantic and politically useful for some as the Lost Cause was for Southerners in the Democratic Party between 1876 and 1964.Sub-Saharan thugs who die in the vicinity of a white man after committing criminal acts turned into sacred martyrs as the result of this historical narrative. This swindle will continue to work in every election year until a new historical narrative comes to dominate society.
The Civil War is over. The CWCC is over. Its last event was held in Springfield, Illinois on April 30, 1965. Yet, the evils of the heresy of Negro Worship that led to both the Civil War and the evils of the “civil rights” movement live on. The worst evil to come out of the “civil rights” era was the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a law that has helped to displace whites within the very civilization that they carved out of a savage wilderness.
In the 1960s, white Americans led the free world in a land of peace and plenty. Today, whites are facing the Great Replacement. The roots of this genocide go back to the Civil War and the “civil rights” movement. The Civil War historian Bruce Catton said it best when he wrote that the war was “a consuming tragedy so costly that generations would pass before people could begin to say whether what it had bought was worth the price.”
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 Robert J. Cook, Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007), Loc. 79.
 Ibid., p. 9.
 David W. Blight, American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011), Loc. 139.
 Robert J. Cook, Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007), p .38.
 Ibid., p. 69.
 Ibid., p. 178.