For the sixteenth straight year, Arkansas celebrated a combined Confederate Memorial Day, Confederate Flag Day, and Arkansas Confederate History and Heritage Month on April 7, 2012, the Saturday before Easter. The celebration was held on the state Capitol grounds in the shadow of the Confederate Monument. This year, the event is part of the state’s official Sesquicentennial observance of the Civil War.
Danny Honnoll, commander of the contingent of Sons of Confederate Veterans, remarked that the celebration was important to him and many others, as a way of honoring his five ancestors who died in the Civil War.
A group of re-enactors stood at attention to the left of the monument and speaker’s stand and fired a rifle salute to the Confederate dead at the close of the ceremony. Finally, all the participants gathered in front of the monument on the corner of the Capitol grounds for a round of picture taking.
Confederate Memorial Day began across the South as early as the spring of 1865, at the end of the war, when women began to decorate and tend to the graves of Confederates who had died in the war. Mrs. Charles J. Williams of Columbus, Georgia, wrote to many southern newspapers that spring, asking that a movement begin that would create a special day to remember the southern dead. The commemoration caught on quickly and within a few years was celebrated from Texas to Virginia. The speeches that were made in countless cemeteries across the region were a major factor in the creation of the public memory in the South known as the Lost Cause. As I write in my recent book, Enduring Legacy: Rhetoric and Ritual of the Lost Cause, “More than a century and a half later, many southern communities continue to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day.” In addition to this example in Little Rock, “In Pensacola, Florida, the United Daughters of the Confederacy still gather at the grave of Stephen R. Mallory, Confederate secretary of the navy, in St. Michael’s Cemetery and place a flag on his grave, was well as on the graves of the two Union and nineteen Confederate veterans in the cemetery. Traditions die hard in the South.” (p. 25)