Here is another story concerning the public display of the Confederate flag, this time in the former capital of the Confederacy of Richmond, Virginia. A small, but dedicated group is protesting the removal of a Confederate flag from the grounds of the Confederate War Memorial Chapel, which sits on ground owned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The chapel was at one point part of a camp for Confederate veterans, known as Robert E. Lee Camp No. 1, also known as the “Old Soldiers’ Home.” In 1993 permission was given to the Sons of Confederate Veterans by the VMFA to lease the building, which is when, as I understand it, the Confederate flag first went up. In 2010 the lease was renewed with the stipulation that the flag be removed on the grounds of research done by museum staff showing that the flag had never been displayed when the building was in use by Confederate veterans. The following local report adds some context:
Here’s the deal. I think Hathaway makes a strong case for the presence of the flag on the grounds of the chapel given its history. I also believe that the VMFA’s case, based on their research into the history of the grounds, has merit as well. Hathaway is probably correct in pointing out that VMFA officials used their research as an excuse to remove the flag. Given the divisive nature of the symbol and the attention the flag has received over the past years it is likely that the museum was swayed by public opinion.
The problem with Hathaway’s argument, as well as the rest of the so-called “Southern Heritage” defenders, is the self-righteous nature of their own rhetoric. It is disingenuous on the part of Hathaway and others to frame this specific case as a defense of the memory of Confederate veterans as if they alone have a monopoly on what that entails. The VMFA has spent a great deal of money maintaining the grounds and even interpreting the structure for those interested. It seems to me that the museum has done much more to preserve the city’s Confederate heritage/history than anything Hathaway and others can accomplish by “flagging”.
The larger problem for these people is their tendency to give every instance of a so-called “Heritage Violation” the same moral weight and attention. In other words, by defending crusading for every snot-nosed kid who can’t wear a shirt with a Confederate flag to school, pushing for Confederate vanity license plates or engaging in the silly shenanigans of raising “big ass Confederate flags” along southern highways they have rendered their own position untenable. The “Old Soldiers’ Home” is worth fighting for, though I suspect that very few people will take the “flaggers” seriously and they have only themselves to blame. The meaning of the Confederate flag is gradually losing its connection not just to the Civil War era, but to any period in American history. It will soon have the same cultural cache as a peace sign and smiley face and in the end Hathaway and others will have done more than any of their so-called enemies to help bring this about.