This is a promising development. Many of you are aware that the Museum of the Confederacy hopes to spread its wings in the coming years as a way of getting out from under the shadow and construction cranes around the VCU Medical Center. This will involve moving its collection to four different locations in time for or during the Civil War Sesquicentennial. One of the locations currently under consideration is in Spotsylvania Court House. In preparation for this move MOC President Waite Rawls has met with various local organizations including the Spotsylvania Chapter of the NAACP. Surprisingly, they seem to be receptive to the museum:
On Thursday, he [Rawls] met with the NAACP at Mount Hope Baptist Church.
About 50 people attended, along with five Spotsylvania supervisors. "What we are looking for is balance," said NAACP member Col. Horace
McCaskill. "We’re not adverse to learning about the Confederacy side,
but we want the whole story to be told, and we need to understand that." The "whole story" means "all cultures involved in the Civil War,"
including the roles of free and enslaved blacks and Americans Indian,
Layton Fairchild, a former candidate for the Board of Supervisors, said people want to know the truth about the war. "There are a lot of stereotypes on both sides, the white side of
history and the black side of history," he said. "If we had an
institution come in and say ‘This is how it happened and let’s get
educated,’ I think that is the most important thing."
Even the name of the museum itself has not proven to be a stumbling block for some:
Cleo Coleman, a history buff whose great-grandfather was a free black, said the name of the museum does not bother her.
"But I am certainly aware of the fact that it has some negative
connotations for people, and I am not sure how we bridge that," she
Rawls has even suggested using the MOC as a meeting location for the
NAACP: "One of the things I would love to have in the Museum of the
Confederacy here is an NAACP meeting. It would send a signal to all
Americans of what we are all about," he said. It’s not clear what
Rawls has in mind, but it does present an opportunity to market the
museum to the area’s black population, and particularly local schools.
I’ve talked with people at both the MOC and National Civil War Museum at Tredegar
about how difficult it is to forge working relationships with the areas
public schools. John Coski is fond of pointing out that the MOC is not
a museum for the Confederacy, but a museum about the
Confederacy. That story, of course, has at its root the story of
slavery and race which must be told. No museum has done more in
recent years to get that story out than the MOC; unfortunately, its
name and the popular legacy of the Confederacy has made it difficult
for the museum to market its scholarly/educational agenda.
While I am very sensitive to the concerns of the NAACP when it comes
to our public memory of the Civil War they have been way too dismissive
of the MOC’s efforts over the past few years to reach out to the black
community. The most extreme elements are as bad, if not worse, than
the "Neo-Confederate" yahoos who maintain an aggressive posture against
any attempt to address the importance of slavery and race within a
museum context, whether it is at the MOC or anywhere else for that
matter. Unfortunately, the NAACP has in recent years been preoccupied
with high-profile stands surrounding the location of the Confederate
flag in South Carolina. Whether the accommodating stance of the
Spotsylvania chapter of the NAACP is a sign of institutional changes on
a broader scale is unknown at this point.
I for one would love to see the NAACP take advantage of this opportunity. They don’t seem to come around that often.