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Dan DeWitt: When Raid trumps King Day, that says a lot

Whether or not the guy who wants to bring a mud-bogging TV reality show to Hernando County can actually pull this off, he did prompt an interesting question:

Do we really want to be known across America for a show that, as he said to the County Commission on Tuesday, is "all about a bunch of rednecks playing in the mud"?

Maybe this will make us think about such matters — what kind of community we have and what we want it to become.

And, if so, maybe we'll consider why our county puts so much more energy into marking the darkest chapter of our nation's history than it does the proudest.

I'm talking about the upcoming holiday weekend that includes (on Jan. 19 and 20) the Brooksville Raid Civil War re-enactment, which is a big deal around here, as well as observations of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is hardly any deal at all.

It used to be.

Every year, the local branch of the NAACP organized a parade that ended at the steps of the old Hernando County Courthouse.

That way, the greatness of King and his movement was acknowledged by everybody — even county leaders, the kind of people who had excluded Hernando's African-Americans from power for so many decades.

The same point was made when, as typically happened, several commissioners attended the picnic at Kennedy Park that always followed the parade.

The cost of insurance and street closings caused the parade to be canceled for the first time in 2005. It has been held a few times since, though not last year, which was the first King Day in more than 20 years with neither a parade nor a picnic. Just a nondenominational service.

This year? Well, the NAACP is holding a service at a church in Pasco County. It's just on the other side of County Line Road, but couldn't Hernando's King Day observance at least be in Hernando?

A group called Shiloh Problem Solvers tried to step up, as it has in the past, and hold a short parade. But a last-ditch organizational meeting Wednesday night drew only two supporters.

So, no parade, no picnic, just a service — the same meager recognition of King's legacy as last year.

On the other hand, the original Brooksville Raid has to be the most over-recognized event in county history.

In the annual re-enactment, the tiny skirmish becomes a major battle and a major tourism draw — one sponsored in part by this paper. For a lot of people in Florida, it's what puts Hernando County on the map.

There's real history to be learned at the Raid, especially because the organizers are careful to explain what it really looked like. The re-enactors and camp followers also show what life in the field was like in 19th century — generally, very uncomfortable. And if the event felt like a South-will-rise-again festival 20 years ago, it feels a lot less like that now.

But talk to the re-enactors and you might hear that secession was about states' rights rather than slavery. In the crowd, you'll surely see people displaying Confederate flags and treating the entire event like fun. In fact, for a lot of people, that's the whole point.

So, as a reminder, look back at Alexander Stephens' "Cornerstone Speech," which I came across this week in a book I'm reading, and which got me thinking about this whole matter.

Stephens was the Confederacy's vice president and probably its most respected statesman. His 1861 speech was intended to lay out the defining principles of the new nation.

The "immediate cause" of secession, he said, was slavery. And the division over this issue had become irreconcilable because the nation's founders had gotten it wrong when they said "all men are created equal."

The Confederacy would correct this error, Stephens said, because "its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery ... is his natural and normal condition."

As major speeches in our history go, it's the direct opposite of King's "I Have a Dream."

And after reading it, the idea that Hernando's name might be attached to mud-bogging doesn't really seem like a major problem.

Dan DeWitt: When Raid trumps King Day, that says a lot 01/10/13 [Last modified: Thursday, January 10, 2013 4:51pm]
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