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.