Alternative School on Camp Douglas Grounds Causes Controversy

[Hat-tip to Bjorn Skaptason]

Here is an interesting story to start off the week.  Apparently, a group in Chicago wants to build an alternative school that includes a Civil War museum on the grounds of Camp Douglas.  If approved, the school would be housed in a former funeral home that was once owned by Ernest Griffin.  Before he died Griffin discovered that the funeral home was located on the grounds of the former prison and recruitment center and that one of his ancestors had served in the USCTs.

He set out to learn all he could about the Civil War, becoming an expert and amassing a grand memorabilia collection along the way before his death in 1995.  “It’s a fairly large collection, mostly genealogy,” according to Kelly McGrath, spokeswoman for the Newberry Library.  Heirs Dawn Griffin O’Neal and husband Jim O’Neal donated Griffin’s collection to the museum this summer. It’s yet to be catalogued.  Griffin had gained infamy by flying a Confederate flag on his property — alongside flags of the United States, Africa and a P.O.W. flag.  In 1990, at a ceremony attended by Daley and then-Ald. Bobby Rush, the funeral director installed a Heritage Memorial Wall in his parking lot to honor those who died in the camp.  All that is donated. A property marker remains, however, noting this is the “site of enlistment of Private Charles H. Griffin, Jan. 5, 1864, Co. B. 29th Reg., T. U.S. Col, D Infantry USCT.”  Griffin’s grandfather served in Company B of the 29th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry, the first African-American Union Army division in the state of Virginia.

Organizers hope to utilize these assets to establish a program in cultural preservation.  I am not quite sure what to make of this.  Ignoring the local political issues and just thinking of the possibilities leaves me with a number of questions and very few answers.  How does a program in cultural preservation help this particular group of students?  Who staffs it?  Anyway, it does sound interesting and I will make sure to keep you posted.

4 comments… add one

  • Bjorn Skaptason Oct 22, 2012

    There is much to read between the lines in this story. There is this proposal to create a new charter school (non-union) in a city that just had a public teachers strike. The school would be for troubled kids and located in an affluent historically African-American neighborhood. Mayor Emmanuel is already apparently aligning himself with one side, and we will no doubt see his opponents from other unrelated controversies lining up on the other. In the midst of it all there is the will of the benefactor, Ernest Griffin, an influential guy from another time who had a fascination with the Civil War combined with a desire to leave something valuable for his community.

    If we learn nothing else, it seems likely that a Confederate flag flew over the funeral of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. I don’t want to fact check that, but the likelihood makes me grin.

    I have no idea how this will work out, but it will likely include a fascinating exercise in history-as-blunt-political-bludgeon.

    And then, his ancestor belonged to a battle of the Crater regiment. You found a new coffee shop, and now this. Must be a good day to be Kevin Levin:-).

    • Andy Hall Oct 22, 2012

      I have no idea how this will work out, but it will likely include a fascinating exercise in history-as-blunt-political-bludgeon.

      Pretty much. As it happens, I just read an unhinged, spittle-flecked screed on Camp Douglas over here, which has one of the most memorable quotes I’ve seen in a long time:

      Andersonville Prison, which housed Union soldiers, was a bit of Disney World compared to Camp Douglas.

      Yeah, you read that right. Apparently the worst part of Andersonville was that the Teacup Ride was on the other side of the dead line.

      • Rob Baker Oct 23, 2012

        In all fairness Andy, no one likes the tea cup ride. Everyone wants to spin fast and if you do you get sick. It’s a lose lose situation. Better left on the other side of the dead line. Besides, the “It’s A Small World,” ride down the middle of camp on the water supply is the best ride there.

        In all seriousness I am wondering on what is going on behind the scenes in this story. Public school v. alt school (i.e. charter) school.

  • Bummer Oct 23, 2012

    I visited the website that Andy Hall referenced and reviewed it at length. My heritage is filled with the southern mindset of Missouri, Tennessee, Kansas and Texas. The delusion of current Confederate Ideologues is so beyond fathom, I can’t get comfortably beyond or through several of the articles.

    The freedom to share opinions and philosophy, no matter how absurd, is Joan Hough’s right.

    However, when you convey myths and lies enough, some uninformed folks tend to question the truth.

    “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad.”

    Aldous Huxley

    Bummer

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