COLUMBIA, S.C. — The memory of the Civil War collided with modern-day civil rights sensitivities yesterday as protesters targeted the Secession Ball, which commemorates South Carolina’s decision 150 years ago to secede from the United States.
The Confederate Heritage Trust scheduled the dance in Charleston near where the secession document was signed.
Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People marched and held a vigil in Charleston against the ball. Leaders of the group said it makes no sense to honor men who committed treason for the sake of a system that kept blacks as slaves. They likened 19th-century secessionists to terrorists.
Organizers of the gala said it was not a celebration of slavery. Instead, Randy Burbage, vice president of the Confederate Heritage Trust, said the ball was organized to honor men who were willing to die to protect their homes and states’ rights.
Burbage criticized the NAACP for comparing his Confederate ancestors to terrorists.
The Charleston event kicked off more than four years of Civil War commemorations, and also framed persisting questions. Chief among them: How does a nation remember the time when 11 of its states tried unsuccessfully to break away?
The $100-a-person Secession Ball was partly sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which aims to preserve the history of the South’s “citizen-soldiers.’’
Guests had a chance to see the original Ordinance of Secession, which has been preserved by the state.
On the other end of the issue are civil rights organizations that oppose celebrating the Confederacy, which in its constitution prohibited the outlawing of slavery.
Holding the event is like having a dance to celebrate the attack on Pearl Harbor, said Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP.