Civil War anniversary festivities planned amid cuts, controversy

ATLANTA --- Despite budget cuts and the potential for controversy, the state continues its long planning process for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

"We certainly can't wait until January 2011 to start working," said Charlie Gatlin, the deputy commissioner of tourism of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

A team of historians is working with state officials to coordinate events and a list of sites across the state for education, understanding and the chance to make money on tourists.

At the same time, the NAACP worries the four-year observance could be used by some to glorify racist aspects of the Old South.

"We're certainly not celebrating the Civil War anniversary," said Edward DuBose, the president of the State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We see the Civil War and the Confederate States here as a dark spot on the history of Georgia."

NAACP members have pushed in the past two legislative sessions for an official apology for slavery, including the state government's own holding of slaves. They objected to Gov. Sonny Perdue's signing this week of legislation to make April Confederate History and Heritage Month.

But the committee is aiming for a balanced approach, according to Mr. Gatlin. The committee includes two prominent blacks: Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, an author of two histories of that era.

Mr. Thurmond wants the anniversary to illustrate blacks' quest for freedom whether they were in the North or the South, and he wants to dispel myths.

"We need to debunk the notion that all white Southerners supported slavery. They didn't," he said, noting the frequent letters to papers such as the Savannah Morning News by well-respected whites who were opposed to slavery.

"We make a mistake not to engage in research and even debate and discussion about it," he said.

Controversy might not be the only thing threatening to derail the state's efforts. The state's budget cutting has also had an effect.

Mr. Perdue has until May 13 to sign the budget or use his line-item veto to eliminate appropriations passed last month by the Legislature. He had recommended the General Assembly make deep cuts in funding for the Georgia Historical Society's effort to upgrade historical markers and for the Civil War Commission.

Legislators opted to put some funding in those projects, but he could still remove them.

Mr. Gatlin said the budget cuts will simply force some prioritization about what to promote. So far, the plans include a book on significant sites, maps for driving tours and a list of special events such as battle reenactments.