McConnell defends photo evoking slave past

State senator Glenn McConnell, center, in photo with two Gullah cultural recreationists at a Charleston event hosted by the South Carolina Federation of Republican Women. / Source:Thomas C. Hanson

COLUMBIA (WCIV, AP) -- A South Carolina Senate leader is defending a photo he posed for wearing a Civil War uniform alongside two blacks in servants' costumes reminiscent of slavery.

The snapshot shows State Senator Glenn McConnell dressed as a civil war era general and posing with two African American cultural re-enactors.

The controversial photos were taken at "A Southern Experience," an event in Charleston last week hosted by the South Carolina Federation of Republican Women. McConnell says it was an innocent moment among friends. The Charleston Republican is well-known as a Civil War enthusiast and re-enactor.

He says the National Federation of Republican Women's conference asked him to arrange re-enactors to depict parts of the state history.

South Carolina's top ranking Republican says the event served as a reminder of how far the state has come since the time of slavery, while others say the display is simply an example of poor taste.

Lowcountry NAACP President Dot Scott called the photos racially insensitive.

Related Stories State leaders pushing tough immigration reform Confederate Flag issue again in state politics Lawsuit prompts suspension of judicial elections "I am just baffled to know why they felt that needs to be a reminder at this time because that is not an act of history that we want to be reminded about," Scott said.

McConnell is a passionate civil war re-enactor.

The two actors were paid Gullah cultural re-creationists and posed for the picture voluntarily.

McConnell says he was simply trying to include differing parts of 19th century culture.

But Scott says as an elected official he should know better.

"When you've got someone that makes the law you can't be disrespectful to a whole segment of your people and expect that there is no repercussions for it."

College of Charleston political science professor Dr. Jeri Cabot says all the attention is unwarranted.

"The fact that they invited the couple just speaks to an understanding of including all members of the community that are interested in reenactment and represent all peoples at that time," she said.

Cabot says all the talk speaks louder to the influence of political bloggers like Will Folks, whose web site Fits news helped spread the pictures throughout the World Wide Web and the nation.

"That's what he is about," Cabot said of Folks. "Giving a piece of the picture and trying to encourage others to read more into it than is really there."

A black Gullah-Geechee cultural group was among the re-enactors to demonstrate the mid-1800s.

Some say the picture evokes the oppression of blacks. McConnell says it shows how far the state has come.

(The Associated Press and WCIV-TV contributed to this report.)