As we observe the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War (today’s event: the opening of the battle of Nashville), we should not overlook other important anniversaries … especially when they mark events that have fundamentally shaped our understanding of that very war.
It would be hard to overlook the importance of the movie Gone With the Wind in shaping Americans’ popular memory of the conflict. Yet there were moments when reality in 1939 clashed with fiction about 1864. Nowhere was this more evident when the movie premiered in Atlanta 75 years ago today. See, if you watch the movie you would assume that enslaved people truly cared for the people who claimed they owned them. This is a position maintained by many advocates of a certain version of Confederate heritage (it can be found alongside the claim that slavery wasn’t really as bad as some people think). But when the African American actors learned that they would not be able to sit with their white costars at the premiere, the whole event nearly collapsed.
So much for southern hospitality and civility.
Probably nothing else has done more to define the general public’s misunderstanding of the Civil War and Reconstruction than this particular movie. If I favored censorship, this would be my first act of censorship.