CHARLESTON — The shots are solely verbal -- and expected to remain that way -- but at least one Civil War Sesquicentennial event is triggering conflict.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans plan to hold a $100-per-person "Secession Ball" on Dec. 20 in Gaillard Municipal Auditorium. It will feature a play highlighting key moments from the signing of South Carolina's Ordinance of Secession 150 years ago, an act that severed the state's ties to the Union and put the nation on the path to the Civil War.
Jeff Antley, who is organizing the event, said the Secession Ball honors the men who stood up for their rights.
"To say that we are commemorating and celebrating the signers of the ordinance and the act of South Carolina going that route is an accurate statement," Antley said. "The secession movement in South Carolina was a demonstration of freedom."
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People plans to protest the event, said Charleston branch President Dot Scott. She deferred further comment to Lonnie Randolph, president of the state NAACP.
"It's amazing to me how history can be rewritten to be what you wanted it to be rather than what happened," Randolph said. "You couldn't pay the folks in Charleston to hold a Holocaust gala, could you? But you know, these are nothing but black people, so nobody pays them any attention."
When Southerners refer to states' rights, he said, "they are really talking about their idea of one right -- to buy and sell human beings."
Antley said that's not so.
"It has nothing to do with slavery as far as I'm concerned," he said. "What I'm doing is honoring the men from this state who stood up for their self-government and their rights under law -- the right to secede was understood."
Antley said, "Slavery is an abomination, but slavery is not just a Southern problem. It's an American problem. To lay the fault and the institution of slavery on the South is just ignorance of history."
Antley said about 500 people are expected to attend the ball, which begins with a 45-minute play and concludes with a dinner and dancing. S.C. Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, an ardent Civil War re-enactor, is among the actors in the play. The actual ordinance of secession document also will be on display.
Randolph said the state NAACP is consulting with its national office in Baltimore regarding the format of the protests, which also could extend to other 150th anniversary events. "There is not one event that's off the table," he said.
Asked whether there could be good Sesquicentennial events, Randolph said, "If there were a dialogue to sit down and discuss that event 150 years ago and how it still negatively impacts the lives of so many people in this state and around the country, that would be a good discussion, but not an event to sit down and tell lies about what happened and glamorize those people who thought America was so sorry and so bad that they wanted to blow it to hell. That's what they did -- that's what they attempted to do, and we want to make that honorable?"
Charleston is receiving increased national attention as the nation's plans for the Sesquicentennial move forward. This was where it began, with the state becoming the first to secede on Dec. 20, 1860, and firing the first shot on April 12, 1861.
Most of the Lowcountry's Sesquicentennial events have been announced with little controversy -- many involve lectures by respected historians and scholars.
In its vision statement for the observance, the National Park Service said it "will address the institution of slavery as the principal cause of the Civil War, as well as the transition from slavery to freedom -- after the war -- for the 4 million previously enslaved African Americans."
Michael Allen of the National Park Service said he is aware of plans for the Secession Ball but noted that most Sesquicentennial events have found common ground among those with differing viewpoints.
"Now some people might be upset with some pieces of the pie. I understand that," he said. "I think that's the growth of me, as a person of African decent, is to realize that people view this in different ways."
Allen said other Sesquicentennial commemorations being planned will mark events that have a strong black history component, such as Robert Smalls' theft of the Confederate ship Planter and the 54th Massachusetts' assault on Battery Wagener.
"At least what's being pulled together by various groups, be they black or white or whatever, will at least be more broad based and diverse than what was done in 1961," Allen said. "Hopefully, at the end of the day, all Carolinians can benefit from this four-year journey."
Tom O'Rourke, director of the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, said Sesquicentennial organizers were fooling themselves if they thought the Confederate side of the story was going to be buried in the observances.
"I think there will be controversy, I think there will be hurt feelings, and I think that as this anniversary passes, we will question what else we could have done to tell the whole story," he said. "But I am OK with all of that. ... I think all discussion is progress."