About 300 South Carolinians, the vast majority of them white, gathered in hoop skirts and white gloves in Charleston where the ball took place Monday evening. The group, which included two state legislators, re-enacted the 1860 secession convention and sang "Dixie." They insisted that the event was meant to celebrate their ancestors, not slavery.
"For us the secession is not about a racial issue," Michael Givens, the head of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told the Guardian at the $100-per-ticket event. "We are not celebrating slavery, we are celebrating the courage and the tenacity of the people who were prepared to go out and defend their homes."
Others said that was historical fantasy.
"What would happen if Japanese Americans decided to have a ball to celebrate Pearl Harbor?" Nelson Rivers, a pastor and an NAACP official asked protesters outside the gala, according to the Guardian. "Or if German Americans celebrated the Holocaust? For African-Americans tonight, that is exactly what's happening here."
The atmosphere was charged. At one point during the protest, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley was verbally attacked for saying that it was impossible to disassociate secession from slavery. "That the cause of this disastrous secession was an expressed need to protect the inhumane and immoral institution of slavery is undeniable," Riley said.
"You're a liar!" someone in the crowd shouted at the mayor as he spoke out against the gala, according to the Post and Courier.
But Givens said slavery would have ended even without the Civil War. "Everybody was getting rid of slavery around that time," he told The Associated Press. "The one good thing that we can say that came out of that war is the abolition of slavery."
And the history of the civil rights movement is no less contentious. Monday, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour got himself into some trouble when he defended Citizens Councils, anti-black civic organizations created to stop integration in the 1950s.
Barbour credited the council in Yazoo City, Miss., where he grew up, with fighting the Ku Klux Klan. "You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders," Barbour said in an interview with The Weekly Standard. "In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you'd lose it. If you had a store, they'd see nobody shopped there. We didn't have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City."