Bill Kinney: Times have changed, but city still honors Confederate Memorial Day
by Bill Kinney
Columnist The Marietta Daily Journal
May 01, 2011
Back when this columnist was a boy growing up in Marietta in the late 1920s and early ’30s, Confederate Memorial Day was one of the biggest holidays of the year each April. We schoolchildren and our teachers would process from the old Waterman Street School down Waterman Street toward the Confederate Cemetery on Powder Springs Street. There would be a big ceremony, sometimes a parade, with speeches and a band. Wreaths were laid on the thousands of graves there, most of whom hold soldiers who were buried as “unknowns.”
The Civil War and Reconstruction were still fresh memories in these parts back then, of course. It had only been about 65 years since the war had ended, and there were still a handful of old men in town who had worn the gray uniform in that war. When this Old Scribbler was a boy, people looked up to the soldiers of that war much the same way that people now look up to WWII vets.
Let’s not forget that one of the war’s bigger battles took place just two miles from downtown Marietta at Kennesaw Mountain. Boys of my generation spent their after school hours prowling its slopes for battle relics, which were still easy to find. And none of us had ever heard of metal detectors.
Interest in the war was overshadowed during the WWII era and after, then surged again during the Civil War Centennial years 1961-65. After a few slow years, it began building again in the early 1990s, when the annual parade to the Confederate Cemetery began to take place again each spring.
This year’s ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. today and is sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans will cut the ribbon for the new walkway constructed through the cemetery, according to former Marietta Councilwoman Betty Hunter.
Georgians began the tradition of decorating graves each April 26 in the years immediately after the war. And in 1874 the state Legislature established April 26 as a public holiday, noting that it was already known as “Memorial Day.” Some say the tradition began in Columbus in 1866.
April 26 was also the date on which Confederate Gen. Joe Johnston, commander of the South’s last major army, the Army of Tennessee, surrendered to Union Gen. William T. Sherman near Durham, N.C., in the spring of 1865. The same two armies under the same two commanders had fought the summer before at Kennesaw Mountain.
But with changing times, it has become less politically correct to honor the Confederacy in any way. Unfortunately, too many Southerners for too long let the bigots take control of the meaning of the Confederacy and the display of its symbols, such as its well-known battle flag. Today, it’s difficult to honor those who fought in gray without opening yourself to suspicions of harboring ugly, old-fashioned opinions.
But you can be sure that those kind of views will not be on display at Sunday’s event in Marietta.
The Georgia General Assembly updated its list of public holidays back in 1984 and did away with Confederate Memorial Day. The new list tracks the federal list, which for obvious reasons does not include Confederate Memorial Day, Robert E. Lee’s birthday or Jeff Davis’ birthday as holidays.
But the Legislature returned to the issue in 2009, establishing each April as Confederate History and Heritage Month. Here’s what that law says:
(a) The General Assembly hereby finds and determines that tourism is a great economic resource in Georgia; and historical, heritage, and cultural inheritance are among the tourism industry’s most popular attractions. Georgia’s Confederate heritage, physical artifacts and battle sites, and historic events and persons not only attract visitors, they are potentially of even greater importance and benefit to our state’s economy. Increased development of our state’s Confederate history and heritage as part of the tourism industry will be enhanced through recognizing, celebrating, and advertising that heritage and history.
(b) The month of April of each year is hereby designated as Confederate History and Heritage Month and shall be set aside to honor, observe, and celebrate the Confederate States of America, its history, those who served in its armed forces and government, and all those millions of its citizens of various races and ethnic groups and religions who contributed in sundry and myriad ways to the cause which they held so dear from its founding on February 4, 1861, in Montgomery, Alabama, until the Confederate ship CSS Shenandoah sailed into Liverpool Harbor and surrendered to British authorities on November 6, 1865.
(c) Officials and departments of state, county, and municipal governments, boards of education, elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, businesses, and all citizens are encouraged to participate in programs, displays, and activities that commemorate and honor our shared history and cultural inheritance throughout each April during Confederate History and Heritage Month.
Today’s ceremony at the Confederate Cemetery always attracts a big crowd. If you haven’t been before, you should go.
Bill Kinney is Associate Editor for the Marietta Daily Journal.
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