Sunday, July 30, 2006

Dead horse, re-beaten

"Let's try something new, but it has to be done like before."

It looks like the Battle of Selma is going to make a come-back. But the question remains, will this come-back be true or just another way of delaying doom? I've written on this before with passion, and I still very much stand behind that post.

Before I go on though, I want to make a point clear. I'm not against the existence of the reenacted battle of Selma. I do use it as an example of an event that has an unsteady foundation based on non-reenactors having decision-making power over an event that should cater to reenactors first and foremost. Selma is a parable that all reenactors should take heed of.

A couple a pargraphs down, the Selma Times News-Journal article covering the reemergence of Selma says:

Key to the future of the event is the appointment of a new Battle Chairman, Chuck Yeargan of Yeargan Construction in Selma. "We are excited Chuck has agreed to serve as Battle Chairman; it is vital to success of the event for someone from the community to run the show," said Dave Neel, president of the authority,

This is what inspired my initial quote at the beginning of the post. Since I'm not in a position to cast any judgements on Mr. Yeargan, I'll avoid any direct references to his abilities. But this is the same thing that the sponsors of the event did before; having a non-reenactor try to run the show.

Yeargan brings enthusiasm and a fresh perspective to the Battle, and he is committed to coordinating efforts to promote and prepare for the event, Neel said. "When the Battle was cancelled this spring, I realized that it was an important part of Selma, and I wanted to get involved to keep it going," Yeargan said.

OK, how fresh of a perspective can he bring? Mr. Yeargen should be all ears to the reenactors if he wants to make this event something that'll bring back good reenactors, and create a good event. The problem with Selma 1.0 is that the event sponsors opened the doors wide-open to anyone who wanted to attend. Big mistake. Selma 2.0 needs to cultivate attendance with authentic groups, create factual scenarios that don't always end in a Confederate win, and use some creativity to engage the spectators more. Create an event that good reenactors want to go to.

The Authority is planning numerous changes that it hopes will promote reenactor participation and spectator attendance alike. The standing date has been moved up a week, so that conflicts with Confederate Memorial Day (the Alabama State holiday falls on the fourth Monday in April) will be avoided in the future. "This addresses a long-standing problem for many reenacting units that are committed to participation in local memorial ceremonies, and should also prevent conflicts with NASCAR races at Talladega," Neel said.

BUT are they going to be mindful of other reenacting events that'll happen within that time also? It doesn't matter if you can't attract the reenactors first and foremost. If so, moving the dates around may not be such a bad move. Again, reenactors go to the good events, so Selma needs to overcome its previous reputation to be a draw.

A major effort will also be spearheaded by Yeargan to rebuild the earthworks at the event site. The passage of almost 20 years has taken its toll on the wooden backing of the fortifications, and complete replacement, rather than continued repair, is the logical option. Campsite relocation is also contemplated to lessen the impact of rain during the event or high waters on the river in the weeks prior to the Battle.

Yeargen is a construction contractor, so that's a plus to getting the battlefield back into shape, if that is really needed. Also, good reenactors can deal with the elements. I hate rain, but I can get through and enjoy an event while it's raining.

In real terms though, it's going to take a colossal effort to get the Battle of Selma back on track, including minimizing the influence of Selma's business community to make this event a cash-cow, rather than a quality event that'll have reenactor interest and a long life. The 33rd Alabama seems like a group that's progressively minded, so hopefully they'll be able to have the main say in how the event is presented and executed.


David Corbett said...

Dear Mr. Elephant ,
Selma is a and can be a fine event . In fact it is a celebration of the Civil War that includes a ball at a mansion and the best memorial service immaginable at the cemetary when Ge. Wm. Hardee and Catesby-ap-Jones are buried. Part of the reenactment is on the actual battlefield . The folks here work very hard to present this event and are very serious about HISTORY.
Bringing a businessman to run an event only makes sense. Most reenactors fo not have the experience, diplomatic skills ( obviously ), or wherewithal to host an event. Consider all the disasters one reads on the various web pages. Most reenactors would rather cut each other's throat than work together for a positive good. Civil WAr Round Tables contribute far more to battlefield preservation that reenactors in spite of all the hubris on the web sites. The Battle of Selma is a four day event including school days , ball , living history , battle reenactment and cemetary ceremony . I suggest you attend and then comment . Yes, indeed , the 33rd Alabama are a positive minded group. You don't see many fat "white " ( is this a racial profiling ?) , fat guys . The soldiers look lean and weathered .
I enjoy your writing and give Selma a chance.
cordially yours,
David Corbett , Wheeling ,IL

mntineer said...

David -

Thanks for your insights on Selma!

You're right, I haven't been to Selma and experienced the event for myself, but what I write about does come from very similar experience. I've been to giant battles with alot of backing from local business, and I've directed much smaller events that involved working with local business leaders. These experiences have shaped my opinion about the expectations of either side.

When I first started following the Selma story, it fell into line from what I knew. You have hobbyists on one side and business leaders on the other, and both sides want say over the event. But in my experience, when local businesses start running the show, the event starts to lose historical/reenacting vision in exchange for more spectators, who they're most interested in seeing.

Eventually, the event itself turns into a well-worn play that doesn't hold any interest with the reenactors who attend year after year. When boredom sets in, then the event begins to get unfavorable press amongst the reenacting community, and other fresher events start luring reenactors away. The Gettysburg event is a VERY good example of commercialism taking over and slowly killing an event. No one ever seems to heed the parable of the goose and the golden egg. No goose, no egg.

My argument is that the reenactors need to be the ones on the point. You need reenactors and continued reenactor interest to make the event a success. From what I gathered from the local news stories, reenactor interest in Selma was seriously on the wane. Sure, local business can be helpful as support or even to run event logistics, but they shouldn't have a say about how scenarios are constructed or authenticity. From what I've read, that's what is happening with Selma.

Personally, I'd love to see Selma as a smashing success for the sake of the 33rd AL, who seems to have put alot of effort and heart into this event. BUT they need to keep an eye on quality to make this event something that'll continue to attract good reenactors willing to invest their time to make the trip.

As for me, I take my chances on the events that promise a lot of authenticity, like Corinth, MS. If the buzz around Selma becomes irresistable, I'll pack up and go. :-)

Anonymous said...

In prior years, the local Selma Kiwanis Club had taken a major role in putting on this event...many of the Kiwanians were reenactors. After many years, the Kiwanians interest in putting on the event with many a Civic club project. Another difficulty was that the host unit, the 33rd Alabama, is scattered about the state with few members actually living in the Selma area. Mr. Yeargin provides the "boots on the ground" to handle the many, many details that must be dealt with in putting on a good event. The civilian side of the event has pretty well left the military side to the reenactors, save the logistics necessary to get things done. So, we are looking forward to Selma 2007 and having a fine, quality event. Selma has so very much to offer.
Capt. 33rd. Ala.Infantry

Anonymous said...

Amazing coincidence that I was looking for information about some pictures of a 1988 reenactment at Selma, Al, and I found your blog. You can see the old photos at
The brush arbor is interesting.