Robert Behre // The Post and Courier
Bernard Powers, a College of Charleston history professor, talks about the centrality of slavery to the Southern states’ decision to secede during the NAACP’s “teach-in” event Tuesday, an event the group scheduled to, in its words, lay out “the truth about the Civil War.”
A racially diverse crowd of about 100 people squeezed into a College of Charleston classroom Tuesday for an intense crash course on the cause and effect of the Civil War.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People arranged the three-hour course to address its concern that some sesquicentennial events glossed over the painful realities of slavery and race.
Alex Sanders, the college's former president and current chairman of the Charleston School of Law Board of Trustees, gave one of four lectures.
"My grandfather was a Confederate soldier," said Sanders, 71. "He told my dad and my dad told me that the reason they seceded was to protect the institution of slavery -- no other reason."
While the historians who have given the bulk of Charleston's sesquicentennial lectures also have delved into slavery and race, a CNN opinion poll released Tuesday found that 42 percent of those polled said slavery was not the main reason that states seceded.
Sanders noted that many have said the cause of secession stemmed from a dispute over states' rights, "but states' rights to do what?" He said he wasn't surprised with the poll results, "because I've heard about it all my life."
College of Charleston history professor Bernard Powers said that while only about a quarter of white families owned slaves, many more hired or rented them and aspired to own their own one day.
He also pointed out that Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said, "Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition."
Sanders also noted the frequency that slavery is mentioned in South Carolina's Ordinance of Secession, adding, "I think it's disrespectful of our ancestors to say they didn't tell the truth. I don't believe they were trying to perpetuate a falsehood."
When explaining the purpose of Tuesday's "teach in," national NAACP Vice President the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III pointed out that subjugation of blacks -- despite the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments -- continued well into the 20th century, until the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts took hold.
"My people were held in a situation so close to slavery that you could barely tell the difference... until I was 12 years old," he said.