Dec 3, 2010 9:38 PM by Alison Haynes
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - State and local tourism officials are hoping Civil War commemoration events, including re-enactments and conferences, will draw money-spending visitors to Mississippi over the next four years.
The state will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the conflict from 2011 to 2015.
"It is economic development. We want to drive traffic through all of the regions of the state and tell the stories of Mississippi's history and involvement in the Civil War," said Bill Seratt, executive director for the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau and chairman of a commission appointed by the state legislature to help publicize events.
Sarah McCullough, manager of the Mississippi Development Authority's culture and heritage program, said events will be geared toward everyone from academics to casual Civil War buffs.
"Over the next four years it's certainly something for the state that has tremendous potential," McCullough said. "Statistics show cultural and heritage tourists spend more money than general tourists."
But McCullough said it's difficult to estimate how many Civil War tourists visit the state each year because some who drive through military parks don't stop and register with park officials.
Mississippi is among at least 21 states that have formed commissions or initiatives to commemorate the anniversary of America's war with itself, according to the Washington-based Civil War Preservation Trust.
Some states will hold conferences, and local and private organizations have plans for events and functions such as a Dec. 20 Secession Ball in Charleston, S.C., that's sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans - an event that's drawn protests from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The Confederacy created by the secession of Southern states continues to be a divisive subject in Mississippi. In 2009, some black lawmakers balked at a legislative proposal to accept a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The statue is now at Beauvoir, Davis' last home on the Gulf Coast.
But there's been no real protest about the state's commemoration plans. Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, couldn't be reached for comment on Friday.
A website unveiled this week to promote the commemoration highlights a timeline of war action in Mississippi, but says little about slavery. Still, Serratt said "it is a part of the story and we want to tell what happened ... in reverence and respect to soldiers on both sides."
"A lot of what will be happening around the state will be an interpretation more of the home front and how the civilians lived and especially we'll see more emphasis of the African-American experience," he said. Many of the events are still in the planning stages and Seratt couldn't give any examples of projects that would focus on blacks during the Civil War.
Among the events slated to begin early next year are a Jan. 7 re-enactment and discussion entitled "Secession Revisited" at the Old Capitol Museum, the place where state officials voted 150 years ago to withdraw from the Union. There will be a Feb. 12 re-enactment of Davis leaving Vicksburg for Montgomery, Ala., to be inaugurated as president, said Larry McCluney, a national officer with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
On March 12, state Department of Archives and History staff will speak at the museum about Civil War-related items in the collections, Civil War sites in Mississippi, and blacks in the Civil War.
The SCV's sesquicentennial website features old photographs of black soldiers who fought for the Confederacy, said McCluney, who is also a past president of the organization's Mississippi division. McCluney, who is a history teacher, said thousands of blacks fought for the Confederacy.
"That's something we want to emphasize here. That's a piece of history a lot of people aren't aware of," McCluney said.
Jim Campi, a spokesman for the Civil War Preservation Trust, said organizers in most states "understand how important it is that this commemoration is inclusive and diverse."