National flags are by definition national identifiers. Confederate flags are those flags adopted by the Confederacy in its quest to be a nation and were intended to serve as a symbol of the Confederate nation. The conservation of flags, like the conservation of any historical artifact, is a legitimate activity for a museum. However, flags are powerful instruments of national identity and act as such – it is the purpose for which they designed. The MOC uses Confederate flags as symbols that both assert and reinforce Confederate national identity.
Sebesta seems to think that the financial support for this project by the Sons of Confederate Veterans implies that the flag’s restoration is for their benefit only and that its purpose is to keep alive the Confederate cause. This is absurd. First, there is nothing necessarily wrong with the SCV offering financial support to the museum nor is there any conflict of interest for the MOC in accepting and publicizing it. The flags belong to all of us.
What Sebesta does not reference is how much support for the MOC’s flag restoration comes from individuals and organizations other than the SCV. This has nothing to do with the preservation of “Confederate national identity.” Why shouldn’t these flags be preserved? They are a tangible connection to our Civil War and invaluable to our understanding of how white southerners made and maintained Confederate identity.
Once again, Sebesta makes no effort to talk to Waite Rawls or John Coski about why their flag preservation program is important and how it is used to tell the MOC’s story to the general public. He makes no attempt to talk with museum officials about their mission and the unique challenges they face in the former capital of the Confederacy. The notion that this is about maintaining a living Confederate identity/nationalism is even more absurd given John Coski’s widely regarded critical study of the Confederate flag. Sebesta makes no mention of it.
What he does make a big deal of are the many trinkets that the museum store sells that display the Confederate flag.
Flags are clear markers of national identity and the MOC, and its store, The Haversack, sells Confederate flags both at the museum in Richmond and through its MOC Magazine, enabling visitors and readers to acquire these symbols of national identity. A visitor to, or member of, the MOC is given the opportunity to purchase numerous objects with various Confederate flags marked, affixed or otherwise made part of the purchase.
I should come clean and admit to purchasing a few of these over the years as gifts and souvenirs. So, what does that make me?
What I find truly disturbing is that Sebesta fails to offer a single shred of evidence in this series that he has ever taken the time to visit the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.