South Carolina can claim a huge chunk of the Civil War anniversary tourism dollars if it is first out of the blocks in December and does it right, state leaders were told Monday.
With all the former Confederate states dueling for attention in the war's 150th anniversary, Charleston and South Carolina are uniquely situated to mark the South's bid for independence, the North's efforts to restore the Union and as a place where black men fought to end their slavery, speakers told seven Charleston County lawmakers in a special meeting on the Sesquicentennial held at Fort Sumter.
But unless the state is aggressive in marketing itself over the next five years, it could lose out to celebrations elsewhere as "the" go-to site for Civil War remembrances.
"We better, because Virginia will," said Eric Emerson, director of the S.C. Department of Archives and History.
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Millions of dollars and potentially tens of thousands of visitors are at stake over the nearly five years of the observance that will begin here in December, timed to the Secessionist convention that saw South Carolina become the first to leave the Union in 1860.
State officials believe the celebration could be a draw for the world's media to South Carolina, focusing on the war, the rise of the South afterward and the state of race relations in America.
"Whether we like it or not, folks are coming, and I think it's going to be a great opportunity for Charleston's economy," state Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, said at the meeting.
Reaching out to NAACP
In that vein, state Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, asked organizers to approach the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People about its boycott of the state over the Confederate battle flag at the Statehouse, saying the clamp could prevent stories of blacks, such as the 54th Massachusetts regiment's fight on Morris Island from being told.
Blake Hallman, a Charleston city councilman and member of the Fort Sumter/Fort Moultrie Trust, said he was willing to reach out to the NAACP because the story of blacks during the war is an integral part to remembering that time and is something that needs to be shared.
Some of the other efforts being promoted locally include concerts around the Fort Sumter 1861 bombardment anniversary in April, and a "star shell" flare being shot over the fort timed to the attack.
The bombardment celebration is one of several efforts timed to mark the significant dates around the state between 2010-2015, though funding remains a huge problem in South Carolina where the celebration is not a priority of the Legislature. By comparison, Virginia is dedicating $8 million to its effort.
Emerson said it is important for all corners of the state to begin pressing its story of how the war affected men and women, white and black, young and old.
"Start focusing on 'that' thing that can draw people to 'that' town," he said.