What happened to the centennial celebrations of the Civil War?

The Civil War in Memory: 1877 to 2013 Read more from
Chapter The Civil War in Memory: 1877 to 2013

Between 1961 and 1965, the nation celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the Civil War, but the events were anything but harmonious. Some Americans, misunderstanding how the war played into their current concerns, dismissed the celebrations as irrelevant, while others criticized them for being one-sided, meaning they concentrated only on the experience of white people.

In retrospect, it is easy to criticize the hundredth anniversary celebrations. They waxed eloquent where Gettysburg and Vicksburg were concerned and did almost nothing to commemorate the actions of black soldiers. The “Lost Cause” was paraded endlessly, while there was little talk of the importance of emancipation. Was it completely by accident that Martin Luther King Jr. chose August 1963 as the time for the March on Washington? No, indeed; he was commemorating the actions of an earlier Civil Rights leader, who attempted the same thing. Generally speaking, however, a majority of Americans considered the centennial either unimportant or too one-sided.


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