One hundred and fifty years ago, South Carolina's political leaders voted to secede from the Union. Among the issues that prompted that decision was the preservation of slavery as an institution.
Slavery was responsible for much of South Carolina's wealth. Defending the economic interests of the nation's third most-prosperous state was all the incentive many men needed to don gray uniforms.
More than 600,000 soldiers died in the Civil War that followed the secession of South Carolina and 10 other states. It remains the bloodiest conflict in our nation's history.
This week, hundreds of people gathered in a ballroom in Charleston, S.C., to celebrate secession's big anniversary. Participants, most of them white, wore period clothing. They listened to a band play “Dixie” and danced the Virginia Reel.
Organized by the Confederate Heritage Trust and sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the event reopened old wounds. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley called the ball “the opposite of unifying.”
Mark Simpson, a commander of the veterans group, said the event celebrated neither slavery nor the war's death and destruction, but rather “the courage and integrity of 170 men who signed their signatures to the Article of Secession — the courage of men to do what they think is right.”
Outside, 150 protesters from the Charleston chapter of the NAACP disagreed. “It's disgusting and unbelievable they would have a gala celebration to honor a day that ended up causing so much suffering,” said Dot Scott, the local NAACP president.
If the Confederate leaders had been prosecuted and jailed after the Civil War, their descendants might have a deeper appreciation of the gravity of their betrayal. But President Abraham Lincoln and his successors showed the traitors mercy.
Today, many who support the Confederacy lay claim to being the wronged party. They say slavery wasn't a factor in the war and that the North “invaded” the South.
Over the next four years, the nation will observe a series of Civil War anniversaries. Let's hope these occasions deepen our understanding of history and each other, rather than divide us.