Leah Nahmias, one of the writers at the “Now and Then” blog of the American Social History Project, has tracked down some old educational footage from the 1960s created to celebrate 100th anniversary of the Civil War. Here is a taste of her post:
I’ve done a little digging around in the Internet Archive to see if we could find any old educational films to conveniently frame outmoded ways of thinking about the Civil War. Fortunately (for people like me), the United States Information Agency, the propaganda wing of the Cold War State Department, created an entire film series Scenes from American History that provides forehead-smacking depictions of the past. There are enough hearty pioneers, noble be-wigged Founding Fathers, and efficient—and curiously worker-free–factories chugging along to populate any number of Tea Party fantasies of the good ol’ days. “A House Divided”, the fifth part of the series produced in 1960, is almost a 30 minutes long and includes 10 whole seconds depicting slavery (2:07-2:17).
As painful as USIA’s narrative of progress is, it is actually not the biggest offender among 1960s government films on the Civil War that I found. No, that honor has to belong to the Department of Defense’s 1963 film A Nation Sings: A Musical Remembrance of Civil War Tunes. The film, which I assume was some sort of television special, actually opens with soldiers dressed in blue and gray holding the Stars and Stripes and the Stars and Bars. Keep in mind, 1963 was not just the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg; it was also the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the year that Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama to prevent black students from attending and riots broke out in Birmingham
after months of non-violent protest against segregation. And yet the military holds a celebration that opens with the Confederate flag, features soldiers dressed in Confederate uniforms singing sentimental songs, and strikes up the band for a rousing rendition of “Dixie.”
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