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  • Albert Burton Moore and Alabama's Centennial Commemoration of the Civil War:The Rhetoric of Race, Romance, and Reunion
  • Kristopher A. Teters (bio)

Rain fell in Montgomery, Alabama, but spectators showed up in droves for a glorious occasion. The president-elect was in town preparing to take the reins of a new southern nation. Jefferson Davis had arrived in the city the night before and was greeted by the famous Alabama politician William Lowndes Yancey at the Exchange Hotel. He was to take the oath of office at the state capitol building. But this time the date was February 18, 1961, not 1861. Davis had been dead for a little over seventy-one years, and the Confederacy he led had been vanquished almost ninety-six years earlier. However, the people in Montgomery were determined to resurrect both for a grand pageant that represented one of the most dramatic celebrations held during Alabama's Centennial commemoration of the Civil War. Davis, portrayed by attorney T. B. Hill Jr., rode in a carriage up Dexter Avenue to the capitol building. Accompanying the fake Davis were three very real southern governors, J. Lindsay Almond Jr. of Virginia, Ross Barnett of Mississippi, and John Patterson of Alabama, each playing his 1861 counterpart. Once the oath of office was taken, "Davis" delivered Davis' original inaugural address capping a week-long commemoration of the secession of Alabama and the formation of the Confederate government.1

The Montgomery pageant perfectly illustrates the themes that dominated Alabama's commemoration of the Civil War. The [End Page 122]

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Crowd gathered for the reenactment of Jefferson Davis's inauguration at the Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, during the Civil War Centennial, February 18, 1961. Image courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery.

romance and nostalgia of the Lost Cause pervaded these ceremonies that celebrated an idealized Confederate past of heroic virtue and patriotic devotion. The soldiers and women of the Confederacy were held up as model southerners and Americans whose example could inspire the present generation. Left out of the history that these Alabamians remembered and presented to the public was the racial legacy of the Civil War. In most events held across the state, there was no mention of emancipation, black troops, or the cruel realities of slavery. White Alabamians had no room for these subjects in their carefully constructed narrative about their heroic ancestors. They clung to the idealized Confederate heritage that [End Page 123] they wanted to believe in, and they would not soil it by introducing the war's divisive racial issues. But black Alabamians focused on the very subjects that whites wanted to ignore. They stressed the legacy of emancipation and held their own commemorative activities. In particular, the Centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation caused African Americans to celebrate, but it also caused them to examine their past and present struggles for equal rights, and the romantic rhetoric of white Alabamians became a potent ideological weapon to challenge this struggle.

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Flanked by reenactors on either side are Governors (left to right) Lindsey Almond of Virginia, Ross Barnett of Mississippi, and John Patterson of Alabama in Patterson's office in the capitol, Montgomery, Alabama, during the Civil War Centennial, February 18, 1961. Image courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery.

Along with this romantic rhetoric of white southern valor and virtue during the Civil War came distinct echoes from Alabamians [End Page 124] of the same rhetoric of reunion that was prevalent during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This rhetoric of reunion at the turn of the century had been a rallying cry for national unity. North and South needed to reunite around their mutual heritage of valor and courage. But this reunion was only for whites: Blacks were purposely excluded from any celebration of Civil War heritage. Whites marginalized the black Civil War legacy at the same time that blacks faced systematic discrimination from the passage of Jim Crow laws. As historian David Blight asserts, "outside of. . . the endearing mutuality of sacrifice among soldiers that came to dominate national memory, another process was at...


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