Sunday, April 09, 2006

Stitch-counting and sacred history at Selma

Last Friday I talked about historical re-creation and re-enactment in HIST 2105. I discussed the elusive concept of "authenticity," which can mean different things to different people.

One kind of "authenticity" concerns getting the artifacts -- clothes, weapons, accessories -- just right. How "right" is "right enough?" That's where the arguments begin.

According to an article in today's LA Times
arguments of this sort may have killed off Alabama's most prominent Civil War re-enactment, in Selma. In 1995, they had 2,000 re-enactors on the field. This year, fewer than 200 were interested, and the battle's been cancelled. Why no interest?

"It was getting to the point where we weren't exactly welcomed with open arms," said Roger Brothers, captain of the 62nd Alabama unit, who decided to skip this year's battle for the first time in 18 years. He will travel more than 200 miles to another reenactment, in Kennesaw, Ga.

"The stitch-counters had taken over," he said. "If you didn't have what they considered to be the sufficient authentic kit, they looked down their noses at you."
But there's another factor as well. I said in class that US Civil War re-enactment is a kind of celebration of sacred history. Large-scale events of this sort are inspired by the most important turning point in a community's history -- that's why people put their energy and creativity into them.

In Selma, the most important battle for the community probably isn't the battle of April 2, 1865. The town is now 69% African-American and they remember more keenly the attack of state troopers on a civil rights march that took place on March 7, 1965 (above).

They don't do re-enactments, but they are getting a $500,000+ interpretive center.


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