Worse Than Hurricane Katrina

Earlier today the Sun Herald, which serves the Biloxi-Gulfport community in Mississippi published a pretty harsh editorial against the leadership of Beauvoir in the wake of the resignation of Jefferson Hayes-Davis. Here is the editorial in full. If I read this correctly the editors at the Sun Herald believe that the Mississippi Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans has the potential to do more damage to Beauvoir’s and Jefferson Davis’s legacy than Hurricane Katrina.

Beauvoir’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina was never a certainty. Yet until just a few weeks ago, it seemed Beauvoir had not only regained lost ground, but was advancing as never before. Now Beauvoir, a landmark on the beachfront since 1852, appears to be in full retreat.

Katrina’s storm surge destroyed five of the seven buildings on the grounds of the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library. It left the two still standing — Beauvoir itself and the new presidential library-museum — heavily damaged. While it was determined that Beauvoir, Davis’ last home, could be restored, it was decided the library-museum building would have to be demolished and rebuilt a little higher above, and a little further from the shoreline. Money could and would accomplish those feats.

But Beauvoir needed more to move beyond being a static memorial to Davis and the ill-fated Confederate States of America, over which Davis presided. Remarkably, the ingredients came together to transform Beauvoir into a tourist destination of increasing appeal. Bertram Hayes-Davis, Davis’ own great-great-grandson, was hired as executive director. He brought an expansive and inclusive approach to activities at Beauvoir. Andi Oustalet agreed to create from scratch Christmas at Beauvoir, a stunning seasonal attraction that was successful from the start. Varina’s Garden, as envisioned by Davis’ wife, flowered back to life after years of planning and delay. Associations were being forged with other state and national institutions to bring exhibits and attractions and speakers to the site.

All the while Beauvoir seemed to be serving its historic function as a shrine to both Davis and the Confederacy, hundreds of whose soldiers are buried on the grounds. Memorial services and re-enactments were still regularly conducted to honor and recapture the past even as new and more broadly appealing activities were taking place and shape. It appeared to be a harmonious blend of old and new, the success of which would carry both well into the future. When a convention of travel writers recently visited attractions across South Mississippi, Beauvoir was one of the primary focal points. The closing ceremonies for the convention were held there. Like other Coast attractions, Beauvoir has since received invaluable free — and positive — publicity as a result.

That publicity may now acquire a sharply negative tone. Hayes-Davis’ resignation has been accepted and Oustalet’s volunteerism — which was recognized statewide — has been deemed unwelcome by the Mississippi Division of the Columbia, Tenn.-based Sons of Confederate Veterans. It was their call to make. Varnia Davis gave Beauvoir to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, with the understanding that the organization maintain it or it becomes state property.

Still, it is a confusing and bewildering turn of events. The Sun Herald was among those in the community who championed developments at Beauvoir over the last few years as the best approach yet to the institution’s transformation into a site worthy of promotion and visitation. Like many others, we now no longer know what to think about — or expect from — those in control of Beauvoir.

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7 comments… add one

  • Patrick Young Mar 19, 2014

    Kevin, last year you generously let me use your blog to offer my own take on a similar issue surrounding the Confederate Battle Flag at the Chapel on the grounds of the Virginia Museum Fine Arts:

    http://cwmemory.com/2013/09/07/are-the-virginia-flaggers-a-threat-to-confederate-heritage/

    http://cwmemory.com/2013/09/08/are-the-virginia-flaggers-a-threat-to-confederate-heritage-continued/

    In those posts I described the ways in which the obsession with the Confederate Battle Flag and its attendant reactionary politics is interfering with the preservation of historical sites. The situation at Beauvoir is similar in its perception by the general public to that at the VMFA. While the SCV has the right to wave the flag in the face of potential visitors, donors and state lawmakers, they do the property itself a disservice by placing their contemporary political agenda above the cause of preserving an endangered property.

    If you are too Confederate for a lineal descendant of Jeff Davis, then it is time to do a temperature check ye men of the SCV. The odds are that your antics today are turning off the vast majority of local decision makers as well as the general public, and angering the next generation to boot.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 19, 2014

      Thanks for linking to these posts. They are incredibly helpful and timely.

  • Anonymous Mar 19, 2014

    What everyone seems to missing in the middle of all this mess is that this is nothing new. This power struggle has been going on for YEARS. If you’ll remember the mess with the SCV split and the battle over ownership of the property after Katrina, you’ll see this is the same stuff, different day. They’ve been fooling everyone, like the Sun Herald, over the years since Katrina.

    This time it’s different though. Some of them have started to come round and see the situation for what it is and that it’s not good for Beauvoir. I think it was Andy Hall who said in a comment the other day that some of them would rather see it implode than to give up their handle on “Confederate heritage.” Sadly, I couldn’t agree more. However, Hayes-Davis has such a vested interest in the property and enough influence that I think and hope that this may be the beginning of the end. Plus, it seems like popular opinion is changing for the better as well. It still could take years and a battle that’s going to get much, much worse before it ends, but maybe we are finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 19, 2014

      I think it was Andy Hall who said in a comment the other day that some of them would rather see it implode than to give up their handle on “Confederate heritage.”

      The sad thing is that no one is asking the SCV to give up their Confederate heritage at Beauvoir. The site speaks for itself. The only question is whether they are willing to embrace a vision that makes the institution viable over the long term.

  • Connie Chastain Mar 19, 2014

    What a bunch of hooey. So the choices are become a Super-Duper generic tourist attraction or crumble to dust? Gimme a break.

    Besides, the big battle flag that Super-Duper Volunteer Andi Oustalet got so bent out of shape over? It’s displayed THREE flippin’ weekends a year.

    What does a Christmas lights show have to do with Jefferson Davis? With a shrine to him and Confederate soldiers?

    This is just another chapter in the erasure of everything Confederate from the Southern landscape. Sometimes it happens in increments. First, you add irrelevant, nonConfederate stuff (in this case, touristy stuff) to it. Once it’s accepted, then you remove the Confederate stuff.

    Good for the SCV for standing their ground.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 19, 2014

      I completely agree, Connie. Bertram Hayes-Davis is an anti-Confederate out to destroy it all. :-)

      • stupid redneck Mar 19, 2014

        You have NO idea how correct that statement is.

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