Centennial Pageant; A one-time pageant celebrating the centennial of the founding of the University of the South

Item

Legacies Classification
Memorial Event
Memorial Type
Commemorative Events
Title
Centennial Pageant; A one-time pageant celebrating the centennial of the founding of the University of the South
Background and Context
The pageant, written and directed by Charlotte Gailor, daughter of the former University chancellor, commemorated the founding of the University of the South, and without reference to slavery or African American people. With a cast of 350 white people, many dressed in Confederate military uniforms and other period costumes of the mid-1800s, University administrators, local businessmen, and prominent Sewanee residents and alumni portrayed the dignitaries who launched the University between 1856 and 1861. Frank Juhan — Sewanee graduate, Bishop of Florida, and staunch opponent of desegregation — and his wife led the cast, playing the parts of Bishop Leonidas Polk and his wife.

The pageant was performed twice, in May and June 1958, on the football field named for Confederate Gen. William J. Hardee. Six historic episodes included the cornerstone laying in 1860 and its destruction in 1863 by U.S. troops. Although many enslaved people labored at that ceremony, and African Americans were essential laborers for the University in the century after emancipation, we found no mention of slavery or African Americans in the cast. Students grew beards to play “the parts of Rebel soldiers” and sang “Dixie” and “Old Stonewall Jackson’s in the Field.” Newspapers carried colorful stories, circulated by the University’s publicity office, that a descendant of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby-Smith had made the costumes for U.S. soldiers, but students refused to play the role of "Yankees."

Staged in the midst of the 1950s Civil Rights Movement and the University's own struggles to maintain racial segregation, the Centennial pageant depicted a Lost Cause version of a war of resistance to “Northern aggression” and emphasized the University’s heroic history as “Southern heritage” cleansed of references to slavery and its legacies.
Creator/Participating Person(s)
Date created, installed or dedicated
22 May 1958
5 June 1958
Location: Institution, City, State

Position: 81 (22 views)