>A Civil War reenactor responds to the NAACP


Today I heard from my friend who attended the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter that the NAACP has been vocal about how they believe anyone “celebrating” the anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War is perpetuating racism. I looked at news reports and found this quote from the president of the NAACP.

“This was not something to commemorate,” DuBose said. “Commemorate means that you’re honoring something. There’s nothing honorable about this period. Nothing at all. We cannot somehow try to sanitize slavery. You can’t do it.”

As a Civil War reenactor of fifteen years, I take serious issue with being lumped into such a broad statement simply because I happen to be a (mostly) white woman involved in the sesquicentennial. Where exactly is the sanitation of slavery happening? I’m offended by the NAACP continually making statements insinuating that people commemorating the Civil War in any way are perpetuating racism. I am not a racist and me being a Civil War reenactor does not automatically put the racist stamp on me, nor does my involvement in the reenacting community mean I am sanitizing slavery. The NAACP has been targeting Civil War reenactors and preservationists for years and they are largely responsible for the public stigma attached to being a reenactor. We are seen by the public as being stuck in the past, ignorant, toothless Southerners who long for the days when we still had slaves. This is not true, by and large.

Here is a dose of truth. We are not celebrating the days of slavery, nor are we interested in sanitizing it. We are honoring our ancestors, which the NAACP does, and we are teaching history to the public so it’s not repeated, which the NAACP does as well. The fact of the matter is there are racists in every walk of life. The continuous and repeated attacks upon Civil War reenactors, historians, preservationists and enthusiasts makes the NAACP just as guilty of ignorance and hatred as any other organization based solely upon race. I have never encountered a single Civil War reenactor teaching people in such a manner that glorifies slavery or the way African-Americans were treated in the nineteenth century. While there are some extremists within the reenacting community, the majority have no desire to promote racist or sanitation ideology. On the contrary, there have been incidences in which white supremacist groups have tried to join reenacting groups and they have been chased away from the events by the very people alleged to be ignorant, racist and hateful. For me personally, I don’t even look at people by their color. Most of my friends early in school were black. It just didn’t matter.

Race is still an issue in America because people like the NAACP, the KKK, and so on make it an issue. In my belief system, the soul is colorless and we have reincarnated into all races, both genders, and every economic circumstance. Hating people for those reasons is the same as hating yourself. The NAACP is just as guilty as any other organization of that nature.

Let’s not forget the African-Americans who reenact the Civil War alongside white people. Are they betraying their own race by associating with reenactments? No, they are not. They are reaching out to the public to tell the stories of their ancestors and are working alongside historical groups instead of working against them. The NAACP could learn a lot about public outreach by looking at African-American reenactors and understanding that nothing can be accomplished with this us vs them attitude. Instead of fighting reenactors and people commemorating the war, they should begin reaching out and working with us in order to promote solidarity and prove that the war was not fought in vain. They are equally to blame for perpetuating racial separation.

One thing I noticed in DuBose’s statement is the following: “There’s nothing honorable about this period. Nothing at all.”

Really? Maybe he should rethink that when he looks the descendants of these brave men in the eye. African-Americans fought bravely for the Union and the Confederacy. There’s nothing honorable about this period? Not even the former slaves and freedmen who took up arms to decide their own destiny even though it meant possibly being captured and sent back into slavery? I would say these men are pretty honorable.

 As my friend Nellie said, “There is a big difference between commemorating and celebrating. Considering that the war also put an end to slavery, you’d think they might think that it was worth celebrating.”

Stop perpetuating racial division. Start honoring all soldiers for what they were — brave men who sacrificed their lives to fight for their beliefs. It’s easy to talk the talk but I doubt many today could walk the walk. Stand before a loaded cannon and see how brave any of you remain. These people, no matter what color they were, possessed the most bravery this country has ever seen. That is why we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. They lived, fought and died by their beliefs. Without them, we wouldn’t be here. These aren’t just people in books. These were our ancestors, our family, our blood. No, we cannot sanitize slavery but we cannot alter history either.

3 responses to “>A Civil War reenactor responds to the NAACP”

  1. Annette says:

    >As the bumper sticker says, "Preserving your heritage is not a hate crime". I have many friends who are black, but I still can be proud of my ancestors who fought because I know that they didn't fight to maintain slavery. My ancestors were poor share croppers who had no hand in either owning or perpetuating slavery. Yes, they fought for something they believed in….they fought because they hated the idea of someone invading their land, their state, and trying to kill them and their families for something they hadn't even participated in. So don't get in my face and tell me that I should be ashamed of my ancestors who fought in the War. As usual, politicians started the war, and the common man was the one who was dragged into it. Yes, there were hotheads who were gung-ho to join the military and couldn't wait to sign up, but all the majority of Southerners wanted to do was to work their land, feed their families, and try to be good neighbors and good people. They would have preferred to have been left out of it altogether, but when one's way of life (sans slavery) is threatened by invasion not of their doing, one has no choice but to pick a side and fight (because it was a different time, and their honor back then wouldn't let them run toCanada). There is absolutely no question that slavery was obviously a travesty of human dignity and should have been eliminated, but the only way I would be ashamed of my ancestors and the other common, poor people who fought, would be if I didn't respect their courage in standing against their fear and honor their memory.

  2. lady Estelle says:

    >Oh my. Your words are so heart warming. I am a African American re-enactor. You have expressed my feelings so well that I feel you have stole them out of my head. I am honored to have come across your post. It is heard to teach my people and our youth our history because they hold on to the hurt. We need to learn how to live and relive.
    I am living by being a living history re-enactor.

  3. me says:

    Civil war reenacting always looked extremely boring, marching around a field carrying a rifle, and that’s what I said 20 years ago when Joe asked me about traveling to Alabama for a week long horseback ride and running battles. He said we would ride three or four hours a day and eat steak cooked over the campfire, drink wine from the bottle and tell jokes. It sounded like fun so I said I’d go. Joe had another pal named John who didn’t own a horse but arranged to rent one on location. We loaded two horses in the trailer and drove for three days, taking our time with stops in Virginia and Tennessee.
    We got there, rode a hundred miles, lost and backtracking in the taladaga national forest, narrowly avoided a tornado, suffered rain storms and horses stuck in knee deep mud crossing a stream.
    We ran into a share of racism but figured, this is the south, there’s lots of racists in the south and bigots are a percentage of everywhere. The whole south cant be racist. What I didn’t know then, was how insipid the racism is, and how ingrained its become, in confederate reenacting and possibly in union as well. 20 years ago I attended civil war round tables to hear discussions and presentations about battles and the funny quirks and idiosyncrasies of colonels and generals. Round tables are the educational part of civil war history. I saw zero racism there.
    Flash forward twenty years with many fun adventures in reenacting, riding with the cavalry in the northeast and out west. Civil war reenacting events grew as we approached the 150th anniversary of major battles. Civil war round tables, hearing the actual facts of the war, faded. People lost interest in learning and had more fun with running around shooting pop guns at each other. The racism seemed to disappear as I soon found that, due to the geographical locations and not the activity, I saw very little racism in reenacting. And then I started reenacting in the south… Smacked in the face like riding a horse into a stone wall, I was hit with backwards, white supremacy and all the textbook excuses for the language. “We grew up using that word. It means blah blah,” as if I’m an idiot and don’t know the meaning of the word. “They use that word amongst each other,” as if that makes it okay. Swiftly following that came the insults of the slaves and their offspring. Unrelenting in the face of bigotry, I inquired if their parents taught them it was acceptable to use those words. Dead silence confirmed that It was acceptable. Then came the insults to my person. Wow. I wondered whatever happened to the KKK. Now I know. Starting in the 1960s they moved underground, donned confederate uniforms, and continued their agenda at reenactments. Now people could say that the union troops, of which I once participated, are not to be painted with the same brush. But here in the south there’s few northerners to fight against so half the southerners put on blue coats and they trade places as required.
    Birds of a feather flock together. Two decades of fun with friends, friends who over time dropped out of the activity, ruined by the light of ignorance and hatred.
    Yes reenacting is filled with racists and racism. You can’t reenact the civil war without it. And around these parts there’s no acting in the reenacting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *