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South may rise again, but it does it quietly

By Richard Fausset
Friday, February 18, 2011; 8:51 PM

MONTGOMERY, ALA. - In 1961, whites in this former Confederate capital pulled out all the stops to mark the centennial of Jefferson Davis's swearing-in as president of the breakaway slave states.

Three Southern governors attended, wearing period costumes, along with the mayor, an outspoken segregationist. Some 1,200 Montgomerians put on a secession-themed pageant every day for a week. Men around Alabama grew beards to 19th-century lengths to mark the occasion.

There was a beauty contest, parades that were attended by thousands and a "Confederate Drummer Boy" event for kids.

This Saturday, the 150th anniversary event will bear some similarities: Hundreds of men are expected to march through the heart of Montgomery. Some will parade in Confederate gray. Some will display the controversial battle flag. On the steps of the white-domed state Capitol, an ersatz Davis will place his hand on a Bible. A band will play "Dixie."

But so far, this year's festivities are generating scant buy-in from city and state officials, and relatively little buzz among locals.

Mayor Todd Strange said he probably won't attend. Randy George, president of the Chamber of Commerce, doesn't have the event on his to-do list. The office of Gov. Robert Bentley (R) - who, like Strange and George, is white - did not respond to a query on the matter.

"I hadn't even heard it was happening," Rhonda Campbell, 43, the manager of a payday loan business near the parade route, said, echoing many residents interviewed last week.

The event is being organized by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the self-described "hereditary organization" for descendants of Confederate soldiers. Like other SCV efforts to mark the Civil War anniversary - such as December's "Secession Ball" in Charleston, S.C., and a move to create a Mississippi license plate honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate general and later Ku Klux Klan leader - it is likely to generate heat and headlines.

And yet Saturday's event may also demonstrate the extent to which romantic notions of the "Lost Cause" have become less of a defining trait and more of a niche issue as the 21st-century South prepares for years of sesquicentennial events.

Thomas V. Strain Jr., a member of the SCV's national board and an organizer of the Montgomery march, said some of that is to be expected, given the passage of time: "It's just not as easy to market three or four generations out."

Perhaps, Strain said, lawmakers are just busy this time of year. But he also wondered whether even here, in the cradle of the Confederacy, state leaders have succumbed to "being politically correct." The era of institutionalized racism, Strain said, was "an awful time in our history." He said he simply feels compelled to honor his many forebears who sacrificed for the Southern cause.

He wasn't out to hurt feelings, he said, but the Civil War is something the city can't escape.

- Los Angeles Times

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