Flagging a Symbol Into Oblivion

Old Soldiers' Home in Richmond, Virginia

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.

18 comments… add one

  • Brooks D. Simpson Nov 16, 2011

    You just want Connie to return to you. :)

    • Kevin Levin Nov 16, 2011

      I think I am finally over her. :-)

  • Billy Bearden Nov 16, 2011
    • Kevin Levin Nov 16, 2011

      I assume you have an assessment of the argument presented given that you linked to it.

      Check out Andy Hall’s post on the black individual depicted on the website: http://deadconfederates.com/2011/11/11/everyone-laughs-both-at-and-with-steve/

      • Billy Bearden Nov 16, 2011

        Yes, I have some familiarity with the law violations committed by the vmfa, and the nonsense they are using to keep the CBFs from display outside. This is a fight that you should join, instead of throwing rocks at a good woman.

        • Kevin Levin Nov 16, 2011

          That’s not much of an assessment, Billy.

          This is a fight that you should join, instead of throwing rocks at a good woman.

          I haven’t had a chance to read it. As for the rocks I supposedly threw I happen to think it was a pretty fair assessment. I didn’t condemn Hathaway; in fact, I can definitely appreciate her perspective in this particular case.

          • Billy Bearden Nov 17, 2011

            VMFA Plan to Demolish Chapel – 1958
            By Bobby Edwards – Friends of the Confederate War Memorial – Pelham Chapel ·
            From John C. Crouch, Past President

            Lee-Jackson Camp No. 1 SCV
            To: Mrs. John H. Gum*
            President, Virginia Division, U.D.C.

            Reference a 1999 Service at the Confederate Memorial Chapel (*Records of Camp Correspondence)

            “The reason that the service is to be held by the Lee-Jackson Camp No. 1, S.C.V., is the Lee-Jackson Camp is the successor to the R. E. Lee Camp No. 1 U.C.V. In 1958 the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts had a bill before the General Assembly to demolish the Chapel. (See the enclosed newspaper article dated January 23rd,1958) The UDC and the Lee-Jackson Camp went before the General Assembly and had the bill defeated.”

            EDITORIAL PAGE: The Richmond News Leader, Thursday, January 23, 1958
            (transcribed by Bobby Edwards – November 2011).

            The Richmond delegation in the House, led by Mr. Bemiss, has sponsored a bill “to amend Chapter 184 of the Acts of Assembly of 1934, dedicating certain land to the use and occupancy of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.” The bill is poorly titled.

            It might better be titled, “A bill to obliterate the Confederate Memorial Park, a bill to dishonor a pledge, a bill to repudiate a promise made just four years ago, a bill to forget the veterans of 1861-1865.”

            The bill would convey land, true. But it would accomplish these other ends also. What a short memory our legislators have! There was a time, not so terribly long ago, when the block on North Boulevard between Grove and Kensington was identified in everyone’s mind with the “Old Soldiers Home.” The property was acquired in 1883 by the R. E. Lee Camp of Confederate Veterans; out of funds the soldiers raised themselves. In 1885 the Home opened, and one by one the two-story frame cottages arose—the George E. Pickett Cottage, the Governor William Smith Cottage, the Stonewall Cottage, and others named “Union.” “Virginia,” “Mosby,” and “Stuart.” The entire area was conveyed to the state in 1892.

            Here an aging battalion of old warriors came to live out their golden years. They would gather in Randolph Hall, or sit puffing on their pipes on the wide porches, talking with occasional visitors, whiling away their time with dominoes and checkers. One by one their number dwindled. By 1934, only 35 men remained.

            It was at this time that the Commonwealth turned over to the new Virginia Museum of Fine Arts a part of the Old Soldiers’ property. There was not the slightest question of the terms and conditions under which the area was relinquished. Every newspaper story of the day bespeaks the understanding spelled out in the in the act of conveyance: The Park was to remain a Park, and as a Park it was to honor the Virginia Veterans who had lived and died there.

            By 1938 only 12 old men remained. They were querulous old men, most of them in their nineties, though John Shaw and W.B. Jones were 103. Three years later, with the death of Captain Jack Blizzard, none were left. In the Spring of 1941 the last of the old cottages came down.

            What was bequeathed to a rising generation? A few cannon, an old and awkward house (right), a small frame chapel from which 3,000 veterans had been buried, a grove of magnificent oak trees, a host of memories, a promise.

            All these have been neglected. In 1949 the two remaining buildings were transferred to the new Virginia Institute for Scientific Research, with a promise that the institute would preserve the grounds “as a Confederate memorial park” In 1954, a large parcel of land was transferred to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, to be used for a parking lot. On January 31 of that year the museum trustees released a statement: “The museum has no thought of asking for any further land,” the trustees said. “All the museum seeks is the privilege of using an L-shaped belt around the property…”

            Now the land-grabbing Virginia Museum is reaching out for all the remaining land it can get its hands on. A companion bill would deed additional property to the Virginia Institute for property to the Virginia Institute for Scientific Research. A plot plan calls for demolition of the old superintendent’s home and for erection of a new science building.

            Memorial Park? Memorial parking lot!

            How can this action possibly be justified? Surely the Virginia Museum has failed to demonstrate a need for additional parking sufficient to justify this repudiation of Virginia’s past. Is it more important to cherish this tradition, or to arrange that the patrons who attend performances in the Museum Theater will not be inconvenienced by a little walking? The museum already has more parking space than any theater in Richmond. The Mosque, with a seating capacity ten times that of the museum, has none at all.

            And though this newspaper warmly supports the program and future of the Virginia Institute for Scientific Research, we are not convinced for a moment that the institute has to operate from Confederate Memorial Park. The Commonwealth owns a great deal of land elsewhere. Why is it impossible to explore other locations?

            With the centennial of the War just three years away, Virginia should be at least as concerned with honoring the Confederacy as with pampering theater goers. By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that these bills would honor the veterans or preserve the Commonwealth’s agreement with them.

            Our hope is that the General Assembly will not forget these old men and what they represented. Our hope is that the Assembly will say to the museum, Not another inch.

            • Kevin Levin Nov 17, 2011

              Thanks for sharing, but I am not quite sure what you hope for me to see in it. What does this have to do with the subject of my post?

      • Andy Hall Nov 16, 2011

        Thanks for pointing that out. I hadn’t seen that picture of Steve Perry, (“Uncle Steve Eberhart”), but it’s a very good one. The website gives the date as 1932, which would make his likely age somewhere around 84, not 104 as stated in the caption. I imagine that, given his attendance at many Confederate reunions, there are a lot of pictures of him in various archives, many probably unidentified.

  • JosephineSouthern Nov 17, 2011

    Yes the genocide of our heritage is working. Upheld by people like you. What will you do when they come for the Christian Cross uphold removal and oblivion for that too! Your whole piece speaks for who and what you are – your discrimination is blatant and your underlying agenda forebodes no good for the people and this country!

    • Kevin Levin Nov 17, 2011

      Nice to hear from you, Josephine.

    • John Buchanan Nov 18, 2011

      Josephine…just curious…what if I am Buddhist? Will they come for my Dharma? And who is “They”? Never assume all Southerners are Christian.

  • Dudley Bokoski Nov 17, 2011

    Good grief. If they want to protest something, go over to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and protest all those statues of farm animals (just kidding, I like that exhibit), and the modern art gallery (seriously).

    As to the self-righteousness, I suspect there is enough to go around on both sides of the issue. To steal a slogan, “We are the 99%” who aren’t offended on the one hand and don’t think it is a death blow to historical memory not to display the flag on the other.

    But there is a serious point in all this. I think pretty much anyone who cares about free speech ought to defend most forms of it (even when it makes you wince). And that 1% is always eager to jump in and decide what the 99% should think and how they should remember history.

    Consider this. Today a Confederate flag is an unwelcome symbol. Tomorrow someone decides having National Parks related to the Civil War and monuments to Confederate units may glorify the South’s cause even though Union achievement is also commemorated. Next thing you know some progressive thinker is saying, “We realize Union soldiers fought here too, but we should honor their memory through our activism and not by preserving landmarks for Southern right wingers.”

    The natural response would be to think that is a ridiculous proposition, but in an age where there is no longer much debate in academia (every issue with any political implication now has an approved stance) and the media are an echo chamber of each other, it could within 50 years or less that it is deemed expedient to make the Civil War a dirty little secret we just don’t talk about in polite society.

    And that worries me.

    • Historic Fan Parks Nov 17, 2011

      Thank you for posting this issue on your blog:

      http://www.historicfanparks.org

      Also what a great treat to learn more about Steve Perry as posted by Andy Hall. The information was from source material on the 1932 reunion listed in a book. I look forward to checking out Andy’s link.

      In response to your blog, it is important I think, to grasp the history of the property here sited before one can ascertain what the issue exactly is. Since you have hosted your students in the former Capital of the Confederate States Of America, it should be of deep interest and concern to you. There are certain assumptions and presumptions that are evidenced in the blog in general because the history is not readily known or made public. These issues are prevalent however in all media coverage or blogs.

      Therefore, Historic Fan Parks would like to encourage the blogoshpere to understand the entire property and history before flying off the handle one way or the other.

      Outside of this specific issue, there is a general effort of many groups to defame American history in the name of an alleged pseudo-morality, motivated not out of anything altruistic, but rather solely out of their own propaganda and political motivations. These groups and historians are operating nationally and are finally being addressed not only here, but in other formats.

      Without sidetracking this issue, I would first like to address the I’m sure inadvertent misinformation that your blog sited and a few opines. That is not faulting the merit of the blog at all or your attempt to convey this issue.

      A. The Confederate War Memorial Chapel does not sit on the grounds of the VMFA.
      B. The lease agreement is pursuant to the Code Of Virginia specifically leased to the lessee. The VMFA has no control over that, it’s the Governor. No permission was granted by the VMFA they were instructed by the Governor to do so.
      C. The Battle Flag flew on the grounds, there are ample photos of this, which they are ignoring out of misguided pedantic rants.
      D. The VMFA has spent more money destroying the grounds than maintaining it, and the VMFA has done little to zero in preserving anything related to this subject matter. Little flowers in a non historic flower circle in front of a War Memorial Chapel, does not constitute spending funds to preserve it.
      E. This is not only a defense of the memory of the Confederate veterans and their honor, it is a valid stance to hopefully stop the annihilation of American History and a historic asset of the State Of Virginia. A historic state park is not a “snot nosed kid,” wearing a Confederate t-shirt “heritage violation.”
      F. All the weight and attention exerted by VA Flaggers and Historic Fan Parks and others since 1949 is insignificant to the men in gray that answered the call of their state in her defense with their lives, many times barefoot, under the brave flag of the Army Of Northern Virginia.
      G. Preservation of that history is a very tenable position as evidenced by the millions raked in in at Gettysburg.
      H. The meaning of the Confederate Battle flag is very much alive and always will be no matter who attempts to pervert it. As long as a breeze blows from the South, it’s flag will fly.
      I. Blaming VA Flaggers for eroding the situation is pointing the finger I think in the wrong direction as this is after all, the R. E. Lee Camp Confederate Memorial Park, a historic Virginia State Park that is at stake and an international tourist destination.

      Now, on to the real issue, the VMFA’s use and control of a Virginia State Park.

      http://www.historicfanparks.org

      Historic Fan Parks will repost the same post that was on the rvanews bog as it details what is relevant that no blog or media will cover. There is one issue that is not on the site. The return of the title to the property to the State Of Virginia. The original documents are not on the site due to limited time and budget. “When I got the time, I ain’t got the money, when I got the money, I ain’t got the time.” Such is life.

      http://rvanews.com/features/the-vmfa’s-confederate-flag-problem/52991
      #23 · Historic Fan Parks · November 15, 1861 at 4:54 pm
      http://www.historicfanparks.org
      The site no blog or media outlet will cover:

      Historic Fan Parks was the only public opposition to the grand opening of the VMFA in response to it’s destruction of the R. E. Lee Camp Confederate Memorial Park. That effort in May of 2010 entailed a door hanger campaign prior to the opening and a protest during the grand opening ceremony.

      No media would cover the story when hand delivered the documents, original hand written deed, etc.

      Historic Fan Parks outlined the history of the creation of the VMFA and the R. E. Lee Camp Confederate Memorial Park with the words of the veterans and state officers at that time, including original photos showing the park and veterans and Act(s) Of Assembly.

      The VMFA evidently is blocking this information from their blog and this activist site is separate from VA Flaggers.

      While Historic Fan Parks supports VA Flaggers fully, the full story is not being conveyed to the general public due to the cover up by the VMFA and the apathy of other groups that should have been at the forefront of protests for over 6 years when this issue was again raised.

      The VMFA is located at the R. E. Lee Camp Confederate Memorial Park, a historic Virginia State Park, which was established at the same time as the VMFA. It was established for “perpetual occupancy,” on the land set apart for it and that deal was in exchange for allotting part of the old soldier’s home land for the state art museum.

      The VMFA has no legal right to have title to or build upon that park, as confirmed in 1950 by the acting Attorney General in official opinion to the governor at that time:
      “…not the Governor nor the Director Of Division Of Budget can legally convey or grant to the Virginia Museum Of Fine Arts any title, easement or irrevocable privilege to use in any way property now part of the R. E. Lee Camp Confederate Memorial Park.” J. Lindsay Almond, Jr. to Governor Battle

      To understand the issue you will have to read the entire story at:
http://www.historicfanparks.org

      The park was created by virtue of a contract, deed and Act Of Assembly of 1934. The VMFA is only telling part of the story and not conveying to the public how the state originally acquired the property in the first place or acknowledging the fact that the former Confederate veterans housed their initial core collection in the Battle Abbey of the South, today’s Virginia Historical Society. They only say, “The state assumed the property in 1941.” That is irresponsible.

      This is not an issue over “Confederate Flag” flying. This is a historic Virginia State Park that is at stake and a completely organic and separate economy that has been treated like some trivial dog park or passing thought of days gone by. The VMFA needs to return the following:

      Return the original flag pole and fly the Army Of Northern Virginia Battle Flag
Return the R. E. Lee Camp Museum along with the artifacts and horse of Gen. Stonewall Jackson
(The Robinson House is not the correct name of a former historic museum)
Return the cannons to the park
Remove the “Mary Morton Parsons Plaza” sign off the park
Remove the new VMFA sign off the park also protest by fan district association and other fan groups.
Remove “Best Products” off the cafe’.
Remove your parking deck off the park.
Return the original entrance columns with the soldier’s home bronze signs and cannon balls on the top.
      And finally, RETURN THE TITLE TO THE STATE OF VIRGINIA GENERAL SERVICES, for proper assignment to an agency of the state that will protect and promote historic assets of the state of Virginia and increase the local economy without paving over them. Yes, get your asphalt off our park!
      The VMFA has forfeited this economy and does not provide tours as they claim. The tours are provided by the group leasing the chapel at their own expense. Therefore, the VMFA must adjust it’s claimed profit by discounting the removal of the park as a separate economy.

      The VMFA is intentionally destroying the park to profit as a state agency at the expense of Richmond’s international standing in history. It is the “Art Of Special Interest.”
      http://www.historicfanparks.org

      Dear Kevin, if you care to see the documents, you’re not that far away my friend, lets catch up anytime. So far, nobody has cared or dared!

  • Walter Ring Nov 30, 2011

    It is articles like this one that I cannot take seriously. Whoever wrote this crap has had their head under a rock for most of their life (lives). The Confederate Battle Flag used to fly everywhere in the South but now that White guilt has reared its ugly head, morons like the author of this article want the flag and all other things Confederate to stay hidden. There is no more self-righteous drivel on the internet that those who want White Southerners to hide their heritage while allowing everyone else to openly celebrate and honor theirs. The flaggers are to be commended and I may join them. White Southern Solidarity!!!

    • Kevin Levin Nov 30, 2011

      I am the author of the article in question and I can say without any hesitation that I do not want the Confederate flag to be hidden from the public. You have the right to display it on your private property if you so choose. I enjoy seeing them in museum settings where they can be properly interpreted depending on the specific historical context. Your final chant of “White Southern Solidarity!” sums it all up. At least you don’t try to hide it.

    • Michael Douglas Nov 30, 2011

      But, but, but. . .what about all the black Confederates, and the memory of the happy, antebellum slaves? Or are you admitting that the Confederacy always was, and is, for white people only?

    • Andy Hall Nov 30, 2011

      By all means, Walter, please do join the Flaggers at VMFA. I’m sure they’d love to have someone like you on their side.

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