Earlier today Edward Sebesta posted some commentary on a recent controversy over the management of Jefferson Davis’s postwar home at Beauvoir. I also commented on this story back in March and was highly critical of the Mississippi SCV. Apparently, that wasn’t enough for Sebesta, who takes issue with my belief that the home deserves to be “professionally interpreted.”
Levin believes himself to be a member of the elite interpreters of the Civil War and is upset that Beauvoir isn’t going to be interpreted by people like him. Note his terms “professionally interpreted” and “respectfully and tastefully.” He would be quite happy with Beauvoir continuing to be used as a Confederate shrine by “professional” interpreters as he is with the Museum of the Confederacy being a Confederate shrine.
This is not the first time that I’ve been accused of being an “elitist” but it is funny to hear it from Ed rather than the usual folks. I do believe that Beauvoir deserves to be preserved and interpreted so as to give visitors a sense of the location’s importance both to Davis and to the memory of the Confederacy.
The problem for Sebesta is that he does not approach these issues from the perspective of a historian or teacher. His publications bare very little understanding or even interest in history. Sebesta also doesn’t seem to see any value in using sites such as Beauvoir or even the Museum of the Confederacy as opportunities to educate students and the general public. In fact, if you read his review of the MOC there is no indication that he has ever stepped foot in the museum. Dare I say the same can likely be said for Beauvoir.
Here is the rest of Sebesta’s indictment of me:
Levin is also upset with manifestations of the neo-Confederate agenda. He puts neo-Confederate in quotes in his blog posts, as if it is a questionable term. With the SCV agenda at Beauvoir, it becomes harder to ignore the reality of the neo-Confederate movement when it is highly visible. The SCV agenda for Beauvoir will discredit the Confederacy whereas the “professional” interpretation would work to increase identification with the Confederacy.
This increased visibility is good since it will alert the public. It will also serve to discredit the Civil War enthusiasts who want the Civil War to be anything and everything but the issues of race and slavery and would like to enthuse over Varina’s garden and count buttons on uniforms. These Civil War enthusiasts will also be seen as enablers as since they surely should have been aware of the neo-Confederate movement and did nothing.
Kevin Levin is representative of a certain faction of Civil War enthusiasts which would like to avoid a lot of issues about the Civil War. So it is instructive to observe him. As the the issues of historical memory regarding the Civil War move into the future he is reacting to it and his blog postings are very revealing. I next hope to blog on his coverage of the opposition to neo-Confederacy at Washington and Lee University by African American students. It is both hilarious and revealing.
Yes, I believe that many of these sites of controversy surrounding Confederate history and memory ought to be preserved and properly/professionally interpreted. I fail to see what is controversial about this unless the goal is simply to consign these places to the dustbins of history. I’ve always thought that Sebesta is the worst kind of activist. He knows only how to tear things down.