King Salim Khalfani Speaks Truth to Power Without the Truth

In yesterday’s post I linked to an article about the impending opening of the Museum of the Confederacy’s Appomattox branch this coming weekend.  The article included a quote from King Salim Khalfani, who is the Executive Director of the State Conference NAACP.  Asked if he planned to attend the opening, Khalfani had this to say:

I have never been, and I have no plans to….  These people are still fighting the Civil War. They’re just not honest about the history and the story.

Khalfani’s bio page includes the following:

My greatest accomplishment is that I am by choice a revolutionary Afrikan Man. I am a Pan-Afrikanist. I am one who speaks truth to power unashamedly on behalf of Afrikan people. I have not cringed or cowered when faced with criticism, ostracism or threats of bodily harm.

Perhaps the Civil War just doesn’t fall on the radar screen of someone who self-identifies as an Afrikan Man or Pan-Afrikanist.  That’s fine.  What I do have a problem with, however, is when we speak truth to power without any evidence behind the action.  Khalfani is no better than the Virginia Flaggers, Ed Sebesta, and the SCV, who have done next to nothing to explore what the Museum of the Confederacy has to offer.

I spent a few minutes on the Virginia NAACP’s website and I can’t find anything having to do with the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  How unfortunate.  Of course, other issues demand attention and resources, but this is a unique opportunity to connect the African American community in Virginia to an incredibly rich history.  The Museum of the Confederacy is an essential stop along that journey.  I’ve written quite a bit about the challenges associated with attracting African Americans to Civil War related events.  To the extent that an adult white male can sympathize, I get it.  That said, at some point we have to move beyond these irresponsible outbursts.

I’ve already suggested that this is not your grandfather’s Civil War commemoration.  Let’s step up to the plate and move forward.  Mr. Khalfani ought to lead the way.

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.

Virginia Historical Society Interprets Confederate Conscription

This is the second video that I’ve posted from the Virginia Historical Society’s traveling exhibit, “An American Turning Point”.  This one addresses the issue of conscription, but it also introduces visitors to women as political agents.  It’s always nice to see an exhibit move past the traditional and one-dimensional image of Civil War era women as Melanie Wilkes caricatures.

Outrage Spreads Over Civil War Gift Shop

No, this is not an Onion headline.  I guess it should come as no surprise that the Gettysburg bobblehead controversy has gone viral.  The story has appeared in hundreds of newspapers across the country and beyond.  It’s nice to know that interested parties are on the job ensuring that only appropriate items are sold at a Gettysburg GIFT SHOP – a site where tens of thousands of Americans were killed and wounded.  Someone please let me know when the Iraq Sunni – Shia gift shop opens in Baghdad.

Well, at least kids will still be able to re-create the suffering of Andersonville Prison.

Please tell me this is not sold at Andersonville.  Is a JWB bobblehead really any worse than your own set of Civil War trading cards?

What Will Spark the Imagination of the Sesquicentennial Generation?

If your interest in the Civil War has its roots in the early 1960s than chances are that it was American Heritage’s Picture History of the Civil War that sparked your imagination.  It’s not just the frequency with which it comes up in conversation, but the way in which it is remembered.  I’ve heard a number of historians reflect on the book’s influence on them at an early age.  Whether it was the photographs, illustrations or the battle maps, the book clearly made an impact.   [My own interest in WWII was sparked by reading the Time-Life Series when I was in grade school.]  It serves as a reminder that a healthy and lasting passion for history begins with a youth’s imagination.

It’s worth asking whether there is anything equivalent to the American Heritage book that will stir the imagination of a new generation of Civil War enthusiasts.  Kids today have more resources at their disposal than any previous generation – much of it in digital format.  While I am a huge fan of the digital turn I do wonder whether these products will have the same impact.  Than again, these may simply be the words of an old fogey, who can still remember a time before the digital age.  I look forward to the day when we will learn, for example, that the technology contained in the Civil War Trusts Battlefield Apps has made its mark.