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President Jefferson Davis Sworn In Just For A Day
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President Jefferson Davis Sworn In Just For A Day

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President Jefferson Davis Sworn In Just For A Day

President Jefferson Davis Sworn In Just For A Day
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In Alabama, the Sons of Confederate Veterans are planning a re-enactment of the swearing in of Jefferson Davis this weekend. The group wants to commemorate the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The ceremony and accompanying parade of re-enactors is rubbing some people the wrong way.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

In Montgomery, Alabama, hundreds gathered yesterday to remember the day 150 years ago that Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the confederacy. The crowds were smaller than in previous years but the war proves no less controversial. NPR's Alex Kellogg was there.

(Soundbite of drumming)

ALEX KELLOGG: It was a daylong celebration of the South at the dawn of the Civil War, but there wasn't any mention of slavery. That may have struck some as odd as the parade started next to Montgomery's old slave market.

Unidentified Man: Who are we?

GROUP: South Carolina.

Unidentified Man: Who are we?

GROUP: South Carolina.

KELLOGG: Slavery is generally regarded as one of the main causes of the Civil War, yet it rarely gets a mention at celebrations of the South like this one. More and more are planned over the next four years, marking the anniversary of other Civil War milestones.

Mr. CHUCK MCMICHAEL (History Teacher; Former President, Sons of Confederate Veterans): Well, we're trying to be historically accurate, and so the speech that Jefferson Davis gives will be the exact same speech that Jefferson Davis gave then, and he didn't mention it.

KELLOGG: That's Chuck McMichael, past president of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This is their biggest celebration this year. More than 500 people attended. But historians say, like many, those who come have a hard time talking about the real causes of the Civil War.

Professor William Blair directs a Civil War center at Penn State.

Professor WILLIAM BLAIR (Director, Richards Civil War Era Center, Penn State): In this day and age we still are fighting the fight of trying to make sure that slavery is somehow made part of the cause of the Civil War. But, you know, to be honest, it's much more of a problem than just in the South. It is really a national problem.

KELLOGG: Davis's mock inauguration was virtually all white, although Montgomery is more than half-black. There were more participants than spectators and local officials steered clear of it entirely. Fifty years ago thousands flocked to a week's worth of events and three Southern governors attended the inauguration. This time around, there was 19th century music.

(Soundbite of music)

MEN: (Singing) Hurrah, hurrah, for Southern rights, hurrah...

KELLOGG: Soldiers in uniforms with muskets, women in hand-sewn hoop dresses holding umbrellas. A man dressed as Davis gave a version of his 1861 speech. But there's no mention that Davis owns slaves or other details, such as his wife Varina later coming out publicly against the war.

Ann McCaskill is a kindergarten teacher from the Mississippi Delta. She came with her husband and two nieces and wore a red paisley dress.

Ms. ANN MCCASKILL (Teacher): This is fun. Nice people get together, and that's basically why we do it.

KELLOGG: Phillip Webb is from North Carolina and is retired, so he and his wife Gail travel across the South visiting historic sites. Often they're Civil War related. On Friday, they were at the first White House of the confederacy. Jefferson Davis lived there before the confederate capital moved to Richmond, Virginia.

Mr. PHILLIP WEBB: I clearly understand the historic commemoration, and that was clearly a, you know, a significant event in our history. But, you know, I also understand that it's going to be offensive to a lot of the population of Montgomery - probably not appropriate - so we've decided not to attend.

KELLOGG: Montgomery is a city steeped in conflicting history. On Saturday, there was no mention of Martin Luther King, Jr., but the parade passed right by his old church. There was no mention of the Montgomery bus boycott, though people had gathered where in 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man. At the state capital in 1963, Governor George Wallace declared segregation would survive forever, and he stood near the very spot Saturday's inauguration ended.

Organizer Chuck McMichael is from Louisiana and teaches high school history.

Mr. MCMICHAEL: There are some people who I hope are annoyed and of course, because, you know, they don't generally get things right. That's not why we're here. We're not here as a putdown of anyone or try to rub anybody's face in any history. We're here to commemorate a history of our ancestry and of the nation. History is history.

(Soundbite of song, "Dixie's Land")

KELLOGG: But for many, many people this history remains a sore spot.

Alex Kellogg, NPR News, Montgomery, Alabama.

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