February 20, 2011

Put on your hoop skirts, little ladies; top hats and spats for you Southern gents. Blacks, to the kitchen. It's the sesquicentennial of the "War Between the States," and we're going to have us a "Secession Ball."

Forget somber commemoration. Celebrate a victory more important than any fought on a battlefield: a triumphant revising of Civil War history by Confederate sympathizers.

"We honor our ancestors for their bravery and tenacity protecting their homes from invasion," Michael Givens, commander-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told the Associated Press after attending a Secession Ball in Charleston, S.C., in December.

On Saturday in Montgomery Ala., the Sons marched to honor the 150th anniversary of Confederate President Jefferson Davis's inauguration.

Down that mint julep and just forget about race; let the reality of slavery secede from your mind as a cause of war. It had nothing to do with colored people.

Last year, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) declared April to be Confederate History Month, for the same reason given by Givens: to honor those "who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today," the proclamation says. McDonnell came to regret it and said he wouldn't do it again.

A copy of the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States of America, on display at the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, tries to inject race into the conflict with laws such as:

"The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden."

But who are you going believe: that old document or, say, Virginia's new fourth-grade history textbook - "Our Virginia" - which asserts that thousands of black soldiers fought for the South during the Civil War?

Davis, the Confederate president, has been quoted many times as saying, "Our slaves were happy and content."

So let's party like it's 1861.

The 150th anniversary has barely begun and already the Sons of Confederate Veterans owns it. While much of the North seems content to sponsor forums and hold battlefield tours, these defenders of the Southern Cause are on the march - reenacting victorious battles, restaging Davis's inauguration, performing musket salutes and holding membership drives.

The Mississippi division of the Sons has even launched a campaign to have license plates issued to honor the Confederates' most notorious soldier: Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.

They say Forrest, who went on to become a founder and grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, did not actually hate blacks - that massacre of black Union troops by men under his command not withstanding.

They also claim that Forrest left the Klan after deciding that it was too violent for his taste.

Some black Mississippi residents have been dismayed that the state's Republican governor, Haley Barbour, has not spoken out on the matter. Many are already disappointed at his revisionist take on black life under Jim Crow; Barbour said in a recent interview that it "wasn't that bad."

Before that, he disagreed with those who were upset because Virginia's Confederate History Month proclamation did not mention slavery. Barbour decried critics for "trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn't matter for diddly."

McDonnell, responding to criticism from black Virginians, later added a "whereas" to the proclamation saying that slavery was bad. This year, he says he will proclaim April "Civil War in Virginia" month.

Yee haw.