Tredegar Accepts Davis-Limber Statue

From Richmond.com:

The decision, however, comes with no guarantees on where or whether
the statue will be displayed. It would become part of the center's
collection and available to display and use as it sees fit, said center
officials.

The center controls the Tredegar property for its owner, NewMarket Corp., which also must agree to accept the statue.

Here is another report on Tredegar's decision.

I'm sure we will here much more about this tomorrow, but I am looking forward to seeing how the SCV spins this.  The more I think about it the more I am impressed with the way Tredegar played its cards. 

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21 thoughts on “Tredegar Accepts Davis-Limber Statue

  1. Richard Williams

    “Played its cards”? What is this, a poker game? They should reject or accept the offer based on their stated mission and whether or not the statue fits that mission. Leave the card playing to the 2-faced politicians.

    Reply
  2. Kevin Levin

    Let me explain my word choice. I have no doubt that they weighed the consequences of various decisions and this seems to be the best course. If they denied it outright the SCV and others would use it as just another example of heritage bashing which it wouldn’t be since the SCV doesn’t have a monopoly on Southern history or heritage. To expect Tredegar to accept and allow the SCV to decide on a location and interpretation would be a direct conflict with the goals of the ACW Center. Why would an institution whose goal is to interpret the Civil War for the general public allow an external group to impose its own interpretation? This option places the ball back in the SCV’s court. If they back out than they only have themselves to blame.

    Reply
  3. Richard Williams

    If Tredegar really believed that the statue did not fit their mission, then they should have rejected the offer and forget public opinion. The mission of any institution should be the guiding force in these kinds of decisions. That, of course, cuts both ways. Personally, I think it does fit, but that’s just my opinion. The statue can be displayed in similar fashion as the Lincoln statue and the various perspectives regarding interpretation can be handled by the museum in a balanced fashion.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out, no doubt.

    Reply
  4. Kevin Levin

    I agree completely that the acceptance of the statue fits within the overall mission of the museum. One of my favorite sections of the exhibit is the one on the legacy and meaning of the war. There are various artifacts that reflect the changing meaning of the war, including items from the “Gone With the Wind” set. The statue could easily be used to show how many today continue to interpret slavery, the Confederacy, and Jefferson Davis.

    A potential problem could arise if the SCV fails to see that kind of interpretation as unacceptable. In other words, is that what they expected the statue to be used for?

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  5. Richard Williams

    I agree that no museum should allow outside groups or organizations to unduly influence its mission. That being said, I don’t think it would be proper to display the Davis statue in some quirky “sideshow” type of interpretation which would demean any heritage group.

    It should be displayed, in my opinion, tastefully. If the museum does not believe it can do that, it should have rejected the offer. There are a number of other locations which would have welcomed the piece. If Tredegar’s intent is to suggest: “This is how some wacko Southerners” interpret Davis, then I believe that is disingenuous and not acting in good faith towards those who offered the statue and it would be better displayed elsewhere.

    Again, display it in a respectful manner, similar to the Lincoln statue, then put forth the various interpretations – Unionists, African-Americans, Confederates – in historical perspective; which is what the museum claims to be doing with all its artifacts, exhibits, and programs.

    Does that sound reasonable?

    Reply
  6. Kevin Levin

    Sounds reasonable enough with a few exceptions.

    First, I think there is a difference between the Lincoln and Davis statues. The Lincoln statue is meant to commemorate a visit with his son. The Davis statue seems to me to be doing something a bit more than simply reminding observers that Jim Limber was connected to the family. I say this because, as John Coski correctly notes, there is so much we don’t know about the relationship. I tend to see the statue as another example of a long line of culture items whose purpose is to downplay the horrors of slavery and the benevolence/paternalism of slaveowners. From my perspective this image has about as much historical credibility as the depiction of slavery in Gone With the Wind. My guess is that we are going to disagree on this so let’s not get into a debate.

    You said: “If Tredegar’s intent is to suggest: “This is how some wacko Southerners” interpret Davis, then I believe that is disingenuous and not acting in good faith towards those who offered the statue and it would be better displayed elsewhere.”

    I don’t think it follows that if Tredegar decides to display the statue along with an interpretation which places it in a certain historical context that it implies that anyone is necessarily “wacko”.

    Other than that I think we are in complete agreement. :)

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  7. Richard Williams

    “I tend to see the statue as another example of a long line of culture items whose purpose is to downplay the horrors of slavery and the benevolence/paternalism of slaveowners.”

    I think you’re making assumptions. A similar argument could be made (some have done so) regarding the Lincoln statue and his views on race.

    The Davis statue could be displayed as the Lincoln statue and Coski’s MOC research could be part of a larger exhibit/interpretation inside the museum.

    Should Limber have been excluded due to the sensitive nature of the subject and relationship? Of course not. Had he been excluded, would there have been accusations made regarding that exclusion? I believe so.

    As Coski points out:

    “The evidence suggests that he was a member of the Davis family in the same way that slaves, servants, and other dependents were members of white families—with real mutual responsibility and affection. The story of Jim Limber’s association with the Davis family provides a window onto the nature of paternalism in the 19th-century race relations. New evidence may turn up to provide answers to the many questions about the story that have so far eluded historians.”

    What’s wrong with just telling the truth–as much as we know–about the relationship? I believe most Americans are intelligent enough to understand the nuances and contradictions involved.

    We will, once again, have to agree to disagree.

    Best,
    RGW

    Reply
  8. Kevin Levin

    Actually, I have no problem with your proposed exhibit as long as it included the relevant history and broader commentary on memory which seems to me to be interwoven with this particular subject. I have no problem at all with “telling the truth” but at this point it seems we need to do the research before we draw conclusions. Perhaps I am reaching, but it seems to me the SCV intended to draw a specific conclusion with that statue. Coski’s article is a blueprint for further work on the subject. As he state, this case is a window into race relations and slavery. Again, there are a number of questions that need to be addressed.

    I think the statue could be used as part of a very engaging exhibit on history and memory.

    Reply
  9. Brooks Simpson

    Hi Richard–

    I think Kevin appreciates the tactical skill involved in the museum’s decision. The problem for the SCV is that once it donates the statue, it can’t put any conditions on how it is to be displayed, and if it tried to do so as a condition of donation, the museum would reject it.

    How would you like it if I then donated a cornerstone to the museum with the word “slavery” emblazoned on it? Would you display it? Would you even accept it? And would you accept it if I insisted on telling you how to display it?

    Unless you do the work beforehand by indicating conditions, you can’t control how a museum displays the artifacts you donate to it. And, unless the museum agrees to those conditions, it’s free to accept or reject. The SCV erred in not anticipating this response. Now it’s stuck.

    Everyone agrees we should tell the truth. We just disagree on what the truth is.

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  10. Kevin Levin

    Brooks, — I agree entirely. The more I think about it the more I am convinced that the SCV seriously mismanaged this offer. I didn’t anticipate this at all, but someone in the SCV should have done his homework on how museums operate. Now there is no way that they can bail and at the same time point the finger at someone else.

    After reading Coleman’s response in the paper today it is hard to imagine that any possible exhibit would satisfy the intention of Bowling and the rest of his crew. My guess is that Tredegar would never treat this simply as a reflection of the past, but as an interpretation commissioned by an organization which itself is committed to a certain view of the past.

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  11. Billy Yank

    I think the SCV had two things in mind when they offered the statue. One the issue of slavery and “black confederates” and as a response to the Lincoln statue at Tredegar. Now they find themselves in a rock and a hard place. Maybe they will ask…”What would Gen. Lee Do? “WWGLD”

    Corey

    Reply
  12. Richard Williams

    Hello Brooks:

    You write:

    “How would you like it if I then donated a cornerstone to the museum with the word “slavery” emblazoned on it? Would you display it? Would you even accept it? And would you accept it if I insisted on telling you how to display it?”

    I’m totally missing the point of your questions and don’t see the relevance.

    “Unless you do the work beforehand by indicating conditions, you can’t control how a museum displays the artifacts you donate to it.”

    I agree totally but I would add the caveat that certain fundamental assumptions are usually made regarding decorum and respect for the gift being donated.

    “And, unless the museum agrees to those conditions, it’s free to accept or reject. The SCV erred in not anticipating this response. Now it’s stuck.”

    Perhaps you have some inside information that I don’t, but I doubt that anyone is “stuck.” I’m just an observer but I would have to assume that either party could back out should they so choose.

    “Everyone agrees we should tell the truth. We just disagree on what the truth is.”

    Yes, as I mentioned to Kevin. There comes a point when its time to agree to disagree.

    Reply
  13. Matt McKeon

    Actually people who donate items to a museum often insist on certain conditions, and can get some of those conditions met, if they have enough leverage, or the item is important. Did the SCV have any conditions attached to the J. Davis statue? From the article it sounds like they don’t.

    What’s the point of accepting the statue to appease the SCV, if they are going to refuse to display it thus angering the SCV anyway?

    I mean it sounds like they want a anti-Lincoln statue for “balance” and will lose it if their statue doesn’t get equal billing with Abe and Tad.

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  14. Jarret

    I don’t think there’s any question regarding the SCV’s intentions with this statue: its another attempt to dis-associate the Confederacy from its underpinnings as a republic founded on racial slavery. Whatever nuanced questions this statue raises about the complexities of paternalism and the master/slave relationship, those issues are not on the minds of the SCV. Their plan here is simple: “Look, Jeff Davis was nice to his slave, that means he beleived in racial equality, which means the Confederacy had nothing to do with racism and slvaery!” Who are they trying to kid?

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  15. Jarret

    Oh, since I was very young. I really should get a TV show to capitalize on it. On the other hand, the SCV guys don’t give me much of a challenge, if you get my drift ;)

    Reply
  16. Brooks Simpson

    Richard–

    I said:

    “How would you like it if I then donated a cornerstone to the museum with the word ‘slavery’ emblazoned on it? Would you display it? Would you even accept it? And would you accept it if I insisted on telling you how to display it?”

    To which you replied:

    “I’m totally missing the point of your questions and don’t see the relevance.”

    I’m simply asking you to play museum director and I give you an artifact that is both historically accurate (“the Cornerstone speech,” rendered as an abstraction) and politically charged. And let’s be fair: if Limber wasn’t represented, I don’t think there would be a dispute.

    The questions ask you to put yourself in the museum’s place. I didn’t think it was that difficult an exercise.

    Reply
  17. Richard Williams

    Brooks:
    Sorry, I still don’t see the relevance to the question at hand. Not a
    very good analogy. But I’ll play along. If I was director of the
    slavery museum in Fredericksburg, I would probably accept it, (based on
    the very limited information in your analogy) since that would coincide
    with the museum’s mission. If I was director at ACWC, I would reject it
    since it does not fit the museum’s mission. This isn’t rocket science
    if you stick to your mission.
    So you believe Limber should be excluded, because . . . ? Do we want to
    hide that aspect of the Davis family just because the SCV is the donor
    or just because it doesn’t quite fit the typical view of Southern
    slaveholders? That’s what I’m hearing. The folks at Tredegar state the
    following on their site:
    “The Center’s mission is to tell the whole story of the conflict that
    still shapes our nation.” Just having the very prominent Lincoln statue
    at Tredegar does not represent the “whole story.” Limber is part of the
    Davis story, especially as it relates to the family’s time in Richmond.
    No, it does not fit the PC historical template. Yes, it is complicated
    and nuanced. But it is nonetheless part of the Davis family story. Tell
    the whole story.
    RGW

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  18. Kevin Levin

    Richard, — I think to reduce this down to the idea that this is simply about maintaining some vague idea of a “PC historical template” is unfair. I’m not even sure what that means. There are a number of ways to share the complexity of race relations and slavery with the general public, but a statue of Davis holding hands with Limber is not one of them. More to the point, that was not the intention of the SCV in offering this statue. The SCV surely doesn’t view the relationship as complex for if they did than they would have spent the $100,000 in a very different way. How about organizing a panel on the subject with academic historians who have investigated the matter? No one is talking about hiding anything. Again, this is an overly simplistic assumption to make. The question is how to effectively discuss these issues and I don’t think this does a very good job of it at all.

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  19. Richard Williams

    Any response to your post would simply be repeating previous points. I plan a more detailed post at some point on my blog. I may wait to hear further developments regarding how the statue will be displayed.

    Best,
    RGW

    Reply

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