Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cities of the South Still Struggle with Ghosts as They Face Future

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cities of the South Still Struggle with Ghosts as They Face Future

Article excerpt

THE PONY-TAILED guide spoke with a soft Southern accent as he led a group of Yankee tourists around the cobblestone streets of his beautiful city on a hot afternoon last week. History was everywhere, from the Revolutionary War monuments to the Civil War cannons in Battery Park.

With its gorgeous wood-framed houses with wrought-iron adornments, sprawling porches and courtyards, Charleston has the look of New Orleans - though it smells a lot better.

Still lingering, however, is the odor of slavery, and of the South's defeat in The War more than a century ago. The rest of the country has moved on, but many of those who live here and in much of the South still can't seem to get over the worst of their region's past and the blot on its history that some here still maintain is not entirely justified.

As the guide talked about the city's famous open-air market, he remarked with a hint of bitterness that for many years it was believed that slaves were bought and sold there. Up until 1989, he said, AAA guides to the city had repeated this misinformation.

"Slaves were never sold in this market! Never!" he said.

Actually, as he pointed out a few minutes later, until it was moved out of view into warehouses, the slave market was at a downtown intersection a few blocks away.

Then, there was the Civil War, which began when state militia fired on federal troops defending Fort Sumter across the harbor. There was a story behind that too, and the guide stressed that no one had been killed in the attack and that newly seceded South Carolina really didn't have any choice but to fire lest it lose face with the rest of the world.

Well, OK.

Miles away, in Selma, Ala., the same defensiveness exists, and not without some reason. Thirty-one years ago last month, cops beat civil rights workers during a march from Selma to Montgomery.

If a visitor to the town, carefully avoiding mention of its best-known feature, instead chooses to remark on the lovely old historic homes and charming lawns, the townspeople might well bring up the subject anyway. …

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