A Missouri Slave Auction Reenactment
The Civil War sesquicentennial will feature – over the next four years – a great deal of commemoration and remembrance. Celebration will naturally be a significant component of the upcoming events around the nation. Reenactments of some of the eras most salient moments will surely touch the hearts of many Americans.
On January 15th, on the old courthouse steps in St. Louis, Missouri, a reenactment took place unlike any other that I have yet heard about. Approximately 150 reenactors staged a slave auction. Organizers in St. Louis wanted to stress slavery as the primary cause of the war and this – the first of many events scheduled in Missouri to commemorate the war’s 150th anniversary – pretty much did the trick.
I have to admit that the thought of this event – at first – was somewhat off-putting. I felt it horribly crass to project such imagery as a spectator sport. But after careful consideration I changed my tune. With all the celebrations of state rights and secession in the face of a tyrannical government going on throughout the South, I found it perfectly fitting – even necessary – for an organization to put on display, for public viewing, the single most tragic part of American history – what the war was all about.
We must also remember that many white southerners saw slavery as the cornerstone of the South…that its economy and institutions rested on the foundation of slavery. The reenactment painfully reminds us of this very truth. And if the event makes us uncomfortable…then so be it.
I have been tending in a particular direction lately – sternly opposing any “watering down” of history. Those who opposed this reenactment because it evoked the pain and suffering so typical of the Civil War era have missed their marks. It is profoundly important that we see, feel, hear, and thus, fully understand these episodes as the essence of the sectional split, and the tragedies endemic to that split.