Cities of the Dead: Contesting the Memory of the Civil War in the South, 1865-1914

Cities of the Dead: Contesting the Memory of the Civil War in the South, 1865-1914

Cities of the Dead: Contesting the Memory of the Civil War in the South, 1865-1914

Cities of the Dead: Contesting the Memory of the Civil War in the South, 1865-1914

Synopsis

Exploring the history of Civil War commemorations from both sides of the color line, William Blair places the development of memorial holidays, Emancipation Day celebrations, and other remembrances in the context of Reconstruction politics and race relations in the South. His grassroots examination of these civic rituals demonstrates that the politics of commemoration remained far more contentious than has been previously acknowledged.

Commemorations by ex-Confederates were intended at first to maintain a separate identity from the U. S. government, Blair argues, not as a vehicle for promoting sectional healing. The burial grounds of fallen heroes, known as Cities of the Dead, often became contested ground, especially for Confederate women who were opposed to Reconstruction. And until the turn of the century, African Americans used freedom celebrations to lobby for greater political power and tried to create a national holiday to recognize emancipation.

Blair's analysis shows that some festive occasions that we celebrate even today have a divisive and sometimes violent past as various groups with conflicting political agendas attempted to define the meaning of the Civil War.

Excerpt

This book examines the political implications of commemorating the Civil War, specifically Emancipation Day and Memorial Day in the former Confederate states from 1865 to 1915. These rituals originated and matured in an era when street processions, parades, and various public displays were instrumental both for partisan political activity and for fashioning a new public sphere. The Cities of the Dead, or what nineteenth-century Americans called the cemeteries for fallen heroes, provided places for community leaders to reach mass audiences of like-minded people to reinforce partisan ideals and behavior. The commemorations of war and freedom also were part of the restructuring of public space, declaring who had the right to march in the streets, have graves tended by federal authorities, or have ceremonies endorsed by a president. In short, they helped to define who citizens were and demonstrate how participants struggled for recognition and rights from the national state. Emancipation Days and Memorial Days suggest how leaders tried to persuade their constituencies . . .

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