Newly-released photos from an recent event hosted by The National Federation of Republican Women featuring period reenactors are causing a stir on the Internet today — and some have criticized the party-goers as being culturally insensitive.
The photos were taken at an event last weekend called “A Southern Experience” — a part of the federation’s annual board meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. The photos at the center of the controversy feature several white reenactors dressed as Confederate and Union soldiers, and two African-Americans, who some perceive to be dressed as slaves, while others see as members of South Carolina’s Gullah/Geechee community.
On Huffington Post, blogger Alvin McEwen wrote, “Accuse me of political correctness all you want, but I highly question the good taste behind deciding to hold this event.”
One of the reenactors was apparently Sharon Cooper-Murray, who calls herself “The Gullah Lady,” and performs and educates dressed in period costumes.
Senator Glenn F. McConnell, the majority leader of the South Carolina Senate, is one of those pictured in the photos.
In response to questions about the photos, McConnell told theGrio: “I’m a civil war reenactor. I do both Confederate and Union reenactments. The costumes are historically accurate down to a tee.”
McConnell says Civil War reenacting is a hobby of his and it’s something he’s done for more than 20 years. He says he was invited to participate in the event.
“We were there as part of a historical presentation, as were the reenactors of the Geeche- Gullah heritage. It was a part of a smorgasbord of history and culture,” McConnell said.
Nationally, the Republican Party has struggled to embrace the African-American vote. In online forums on Facebook and elsewhere the pictures have drawn the ire of many.
Blogger Jill Tubman from the website Jack & Jill Politics challenged her readers to “take a good hard look at these photos. The motivation and symbolism is all too clear. The Republican party officially would like to pull African-Americans back into slavery and share-cropping.”
McConnell maintains that rather than disparage people of color; the event was about giving a true reflection of South Carolina’s vast history.
“If anything, it’s a great statement about where we’ve come in this state that we have a shared history, and that we present it to people who come to visit,” the senator said.
Eddie Taylor, another of the reenactors says, “It was a production that was put on.” He believes that the event is being used as fodder for Senator McConnell’s opponents.
Mary Ann Taylor, Eddie’s wife agrees. “There was certainly no exploitation of anyone there. There is no smoke, there is no gun.”
She says for those who attended it was a nice event. “The folks were paid, it was a honor for them to attend. It was great for us; it was great for them.”
Ty Collins, an African-American who attended the event offers another explanation for the controversy.
“When the photo was taken I don’t know that the actors were into the character that they should have been, and it may have been a little more casual than intended,” he began. “I would venture to say that oftentimes photographers like to capture a moment in time and that may have not been the most flattering depiction of the characters.”
South Carolina Mark Sanford attended the event, while GOP Chairman Michael Steele, South Carolina U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, and House Minority Leader John Boehner were invited but did not attend.