COLUMBIA, S.C. – The memory of the Civil War was set to collide with modern-day civil rights sensitivities as protesters targeted a Monday night "Secession Ball" commemorating South Carolina's decision exactly 150 years ago to secede from the United States of America.
The Confederate Heritage Trust, which scheduled the dance in Charleston near where the secession document was signed, says it wants to honor the Southern men who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their homes and their vision of states' rights. Guests will have a chance to see the original Ordinance of Secession, which has been preserved by the state.
Leaders of the NAACP say it makes no sense to honor men who committed treason against their own nation for the sake of a system that kept black men and women in bondage as slaves.
As the Charleston event kicks off more than four years of 150th anniversary Civil War commemorations, it also frames persisting questions. Chief among them: How does a nation remember the time when 11 of its states tried unsuccessfully to break away?
The $100-a-person Secession Ball falls on one end of the spectrum. It is partly sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, whose central purpose is to preserve the history and legacy of the South's "citizen-soldiers."
On the other end are civil rights organizations that see no reason to celebrate a would-be nation like the Confederacy, which in its constitution prohibited its legislature from outlawing slavery.
Monday's ball is like having a dance to celebrate the attack on Pearl Harbor, said Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
It is indisputable that the men who voted 169-0 to leave the United States 150 years ago set in motion a chain of events that reverberate today.
The decision led to a war that killed nearly 2 percent of nation's population — more than 600,000 people. That is roughly the same number that have died in all the other wars America has fought in from the Revolution, to both World Wars and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. It would be the equivalent of 6 million Americans dying today.
On the eve of the Civil War, Census data ranked South Carolina third in wealth among the states. In 2008, its per capita income was 45th in the nation.
Not all South Carolinians supported secession. About 57 percent of the state's 703,000 residents in 1860 were slaves. A few white opponents spoke out, including lawyer and politician James Petigru, whose famous quote still echoes through his home state today: "South Carolina is too small to be a Republic, and too large to be an insane asylum."