Museum of the Confederacy – Appomattox Opens Next Week

Sketch of MOC exhibit at Appomattox

It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago the future of the Museum of the Confederacy was in doubt.  There was a talk about a name change and even a move away from their location next to the Confederate White House.  Now, all eyes are on Appomattox, where the museum will open a new branch next weekend.  It is the largest sesquicentennial project to date and is a testament to the vision and talent of the museum staff.  I wish I could be there.

Today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch includes a nice overview of the new museum as well as some of the challenges the museum still faces in reaching out to various constituencies.  In contrast, the local ABC News affiliate chose to run a shorter article that references the “controversy” surrounding the decision on the part of the MOC not to fly the Confederate flag outside the facility.  Why?  Of all the good things that will come with this new museum, why is it important to acknowledge that a very small group of people in Richmond are unhappy?  Beyond protesting the Confederate flag, what have the Virginia Flaggers done to advance the community’s understanding of the Civil War?  As far as I can tell, all they’ve done is stage petty conflicts for uploading on YouTube.  They represent no one, but themselves.  Even the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who have issued a formal statement about this issue, is irrelevant.  Two weeks ago they were unable to bring out more than a small handful of supporters in the former Confederate capital of Richmond for a national rally.

Let’s be clear.  None of these protests matter because neither the Flaggers nor the SCV offer a vision of their own.  They’ve done nothing to reach out to the public with anything approaching a positive plan of how to commemorate and further our understanding of this crucial period in American history.  The future of the MOC in Appomattox and even in Richmond has very little to do with these two groups.

Their relative success will be determined by how well they tell the story of the Confederacy and the broader history of the period and their effectiveness in engaging the broader community, especially the schools.  This is a wonderful opportunity for the MOC to engage those groups that they have had difficulty connecting with in the Richmond area.

Most reasonable people will not be turned off by this silliness surrounding the display of the Confederate flag; in fact, most people who visit won’t be aware of it at all.  Finally, it’s OK to disagree with MOC’s decision, but that is not necessarily a reason not to visit.  Go with an open mind and share your thoughts in a constructive way re: the flag or other aspects of the exhibit if you are moved to do so.  You are bound to learn something either way.  Not everything has to be framed as an all or nothing choice.

21 thoughts on “Museum of the Confederacy – Appomattox Opens Next Week

  1. Rob Baker

    I think whether or not the CBF is displayed outside of the Museum is such a trivial matter. If I’m not mistaken, based on what I’ve read the MOC is going to have one of the largest collections of historical Confederate flags inside so what is the need to have one modern synthetic flag fly outside? I wish I could be there for the opening ceremony but alas I will just have to wait it out.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I said earlier this week that given the way in which the Confederate flag is butchered you would expect the heritage crowd to applaud the MOC’s decision. What could be more respectful than to preserve and properly display the real thing?

      Reply
      1. Rob Baker

        I agree. After conversing with these people for several months now it seems the flag is the “Cornerstone” of the attack against ‘Southern Heritage.’ The flag’s classification as a hate symbol seems to really deter them and anytime it doesn’t fly where they think it should then they will “stand and fight” (put together a sloppy protest). I think they are incredible misguided in this situation as you said. It is far more respectful to preserve Southern History by actually preserving those tangible items instead of throwing a 20 dollar synthetic flag on a poll outside.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          Part of the problem is social media. First, it gives anyone a voice for free, but it also generates cravings of instant gratification. The Flaggers are a great example of this as they stage these confrontations and then upload them to YouTube. The Facebook crowd that you interact with does little more than whine incessantly, but it never translates to anything productive.

          Reply
          1. Rob Baker

            Definitely. For instance, Patrick Cleburne’s Frock Coat is going to be on display at the new MOC. Coming from Ringgold, that is a pretty much a hometown hero and it seems recently he is getting more and more attention. However, hardly anyone knows this is going on because, like you said the media is paying more attention to the crappy protest of a fringe crowd than the actual history. And you are right by the way, it never does translate into anything productive. It just becomes a pit of quicksand things are taken out of context and insults are thrown around.

            Reply
  2. Brooks Simpson

    “Even the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who have issued a formal statement about this issue is irrelevant.”

    I think you’re missing a comma here (channeling my inner Epperson).

    Reply
  3. Dudley Bokoski

    Other than the MOLLUS museum in Philadelphia are there any other major institutions in the north which could be thought of as counterparts to the Museum of the Confederacy? They don’t seem to get much attention, but it is an excellent organization. I was just curious in terms of not only public displays but also research facilities.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I guess it depends what you mean by “counterpart.” Perhaps the Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania?

      Reply
      1. Dudley Bokoski

        I’ve done research at Carlisle Barracks. They’ve done a great job preserving documents and photos. MOLLUS has done a great job with documents and even a number of physical pieces.

        It is interesting, at least to me, we don’t have a Museum strictly dedicated to the Union war effort, which would have been a repository for documents and records and a place for the public to learn more about the people who fought the war. That’s what I meant by a counterpart to the Museum of the Confederacy.

        I think the MOLLUS museum in Philadelphia was originally intended to meet the archival portion. But there never really was that one central facility or even monument in the north which filled the need. There are alot of monuments, some museums, and of course the government itself maintained documents and you have the Smithsonian.

        I don’t know that accounts for why the memory of the Civil War seems to have taken root more in the South or whether it is just a reflection of the fact it didn’t. Also, I think the North was made up of more diverse groups like the German and Irish immigrant populations as an example, and Democrats with one view of the war and Republicans another. The South, on the other hand, was more culturally unified.

        All of which is straying from your original point, but seeing a second MOC when there isn’t an equivalence in the North is interesting.

        Reply
        1. Jeffry Burden

          Dudley,

          You are correct that the Military Order of the Loyal Legion (MOLLUS) collection has been one of the primary collections of specifically federal-related ACW items. It has been under the control of an independent Board since 1986. The museum Board is now reorganizing and raising money, and hopes to reopen the museum with displays of artifacts and related interpretive materials in Philladelphia, in 2013 or 2014.

          The books of the MOLLUS library, and also the MOLLUS paper archives (which are owned by MOLLUS), are now in the custody of the Union League of Philadelphia, and plans are being made to make those items available to researchers and others.

          Reply
        2. Bryan Cheeseboro

          “…. Seeing a second MOC when there isn’t an equivalence in the North is interesting.”

          That would be nice but I don’t think we’ll ever see such a museum.

          Reply
  4. Pingback: Museums, History, Politics, and “Heritage” « Crossroads

  5. Bryan Cheeseboro

    I just readf the ABC 13/WSET news article “Confederate Flag Won’t Be Displayed Outside the Museum of Confederacy.” I would not have a problem if the CSA National flags flew outside of the museum, but considering unaware people passing by the building, I understand and think the museum handled the situation very well.

    When you think about it, it’s ironic that the Confederate flag people would reject and protest the state flag proposal. After all, don’t they always claim the war was about STATES’ rights, including the right to secede from the Union? Why is it that the people who claim that they know more about the Confederacy, even more than trained, experienced scholars, cannot see the Confederacy beyond a flag? So sad that they have defined their lives by the Confederate flag.

    Reply
    1. Bryan Cheeseboro

      Some more thoughts I wanted to add to this post:

      They talk about “heritage, not hate” and complain about “political correctness.” But rejecting a museum of Confederate history simply because it won’t display a Confederate flag oustide of the building shows that maybe heritage isn’t so important to them after all. It reeks of hypocrisy. And the museum’s decision to avoid controversy by not displaying the flag because it could offend someone makes the “not hate” claim look hypocritcal, too.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        Thanks for the comment, Bryan.

        The whole thing is ridiculous. Hopefully, the MOC will not expend too much effort on these folks. I believe Waite Rawls offered to screen the exhibit for the Flaggers, but I have not heard what came of it.

        Reply
        1. Bryan Cheeseboro

          Complaining about that flag not being exactly where they want it really shows whwere there priorities are. It reminds me of the story of the White woman who flew a Confederate flag in her yard and when her Black neighbors built a fence high enough so they wouldn’t have to look at it, she just went out a taller flagpole.

          If this flag is so important, why do some people insist it must be flown in the face of others?

          Reply
  6. Johnny & Linda Overby

    We are grandparents in our mid- 60′s, not racists, rednecks or rebels (other than in name since we were both born & raised in North Carolina). We find this article to be biased against the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other Southern citizens who wish to see the Confederate flag flown out of respect for their Confederate ancestors! All we ask is that the whole truth be told about the Civil War. We all know slavery was wrong AND we all know that it exhisted long before the Civil War era, in fact BEFORE CHRIST! We also have read and researched this era because of our love for history, ALL history! We do not believe in “political correctness” because it simply seeks NOT to OFFEND anyone. Many of our friends are of different races and we have no problems with their ancestors or beliefs.When they ask us questions, we answer them truthfully and give them books or records for reference. We also listen to them and read about their ancestors or any books/references they share with us. All we ask, as a member of the SCV and a Southerner is “quit hiding our Confederate Flag and belittling our people”. The Civil War happened, we have heroes and ancestors who fought and died for what they believed was right. Read a little more in the records about President Lincoln and you’ll find out the truth about him. He was NOT the person folks have made him out to be. The answers lie in his letters and records, not hard to find.
    Also, my family does not fly the cheap synthetic flags, we buy USA Cotton made!!
    As for crowds showing up at events, even Bob Etheridge, the number one Democratic opponent of the Republican candidate for governor in North Carolina had a low turnout when he had an event recently in his home county! Could it be that people have to work for fear of losing their jobs and can’t afford the gas to travel??
    Thank you kindly for listening to a member of the SCV and his wife.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I suggest visiting the MOC and deciding for yourself whether you believe their position on the flying of the flag is that big a deal. How important can it possibly be as compared to the work this organization has done over the years to preserve the real thing for future generations?

      Reply
    2. Rob Baker

      As someone that is distinctly Southern, born and bred, and who’s ancestor’s have been in the South since immigration in 1640, I think the article is pretty straight forward. Preservation of “Southern Heritage” takes place inside of the Museum. I could care less what Chinese made synthetic Confederate/U.S./State Flag they fly on the outside. This is especially true since the MOC is offering a massive Confederate flag exhibition just inside of the Museum.

      The article above is addressing the Museum as it relates to these groups and not the groups in general. Kevin is right in saying they have offered no visions because, they haven’t. All that has taken place is a disorganized protest masquerading as defense of Southern Heritage. The museum speaks for itself and I plan on visiting the site first chance I can.

      Lastly, Lincoln does not matter in this case. As always the defense of the new idea of “Southern Heritage” is synonymous with deflection and North bashing aside from maybe Joshua Chamberlain. There is hardly anything of note that Lincoln did that Jefferson Davis did not do. The only differences there are acts Lincoln committed outside of the scope of the Civil War. Those decisions were never afforded to Davis so you can’t really say he wouldn’t have. The other major difference is that Lincoln freed the slaves and allowed blacks to fight where the Confederate government made it illegal for blacks to even carry guns until the very end of the war.

      Southern heritage does not exist in a flag. It is a stupid symbol. And in that, by its very nature it is stupid simply because it is a symbol. I would prefer my heritage to be in something tangible such as the historical value of the real flags inside. The pieces of history located throughout the south. Or my delicious cornbread. To me, the Railroad Depot in my hometown is important because of it historical commercial/transportation history and that the town’s Confederate soldiers departed from there. The history of that historic building is not located in the flag that flew above it that the city later took down.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        Good points, Rob. I just don’t see how what is outside is more important than what is housed, interpreted, and protected for future generations inside the museum. All I can say is take the time to visit the MOC and decide for yourself. Let’s move beyond these childish rants about flags.

        Reply
  7. Pingback: Thom Bassett: Review of the Museum of the Confederacy–Appomattox « Renegade South

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