I find it almost impossible to believe that officials at Richmond’s Museum of the Confederacy are considering a move to Lexington in the Shenandoah Valley. Most of you are no doubt familiar with the MOC’s financial problems and the drop in the number of visitors owing to the expansion of the VCU Hospital. Apart from considerations of moving the museum across town and maintaining the present location of the White House of the Confederacy this is the first I’ve heard about moving shop across state.
Now before I offend the good citizens of Lexington let me say that I think their city is a wonderful place to visit and their Civil War history is clearly a rich one. That said, I don’t see any future for the MOC in Lexington – might as well place the museum on Mars. Yes, Lee and Jackson are both buried there, but barring the possibility of the two being resurrected to greet the supposed throngs of visitors I don’t see how their burial locations along with the history of the two schools can lay claim to being a sufficient reason for a move. Do museum officials really believe that a move to the Shenandoah Valley is somehow going to attract larger numbers of visitors. I just don’t see it. In the end, you can’t ignore the simple fact that Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, and the museum itself has a deep connection with the city. The city is ringed with battlefield parks and is within close driving distance to Petersburg, Fredericksburg, and points east in the tidewater area.
The museum clearly needs to find a new location in Richmond because as I see it its purpose is most clearly defined in the city. The MOC’s biggest problem is its image and it starts with the name itself. My guess is that the city’s failure to fund the museum sufficiently has everything to do with this image and the larger cultural debates surrounding the Confederacy. The tragedy of it all is that this museum does not pander to a narrow Lost Cause view of the war. They have some very talented people working there who have put together excellent exhibits that touch on a wide range of issues including women’s roles and race. While I suggested at one point that the museum should consider a name change, I am convinced that the larger problems would persist regardless. Perhaps the museum needs to demonstrate its worth more clearly to city officials and other interested parties in the form of outreach to schools etc. The museum could be a wonderful venue where understanding of the Confederacy and the South is explored in ways that could prove helpful for an expanding and diverse city. In short I don’t see this museum as a place where we get to engage in an overly simplistic form of heritage celebration; it is a place to visit where one can learn and be challenged.