Category Archives: Public History

Get Over It

I have to admit that I was amazed to see just how popular this story about the lynching of the Confederate flag turned out to be.  A few days ago the story was featured on AOL and at last check Google News lists just under 200 stories involving this particular incident.  This is one of those moments when I feel as if I am being manipulated by the media’s tendency to go for the dramatic story regardless of its real importance.  Does anyone really care about the depiction of the Confederate flag at the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science other than those individuals and groups who have an emotional connection with a selected aspect of its past?  Are we to believe that this is just another example of the "culture wars" that supposedly divides average Americans?

"Don’t Believe the Hype" – Chuck D of Public Enemy


No Meeting With Sons of Confederate Veterans: A Follow Up

There has been a great deal of talk in the Richmond newspapers surrounding negotiations between the Museum of the Confederacy and the Virginia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans.  Under the leadership of Brad Bowling the group proposed taking control of the museum’s board of directors as a way of beginning the process of addressing the museum’s financial problems and news that it is considering a move.  Before saying anything more I want to assure all of you that according to a reliable source the museum is not and has no plans to talk with the SCV. 

In a recent issue of the Richmond Times-Dispatch Bowling admitted that if they were given the opportunity to run the museum they would close the doors for six months, reorganize the staff (we know what that means) and keep the museum in Richmond along with its name.  He also took the opportunity to state openly that under new guidance museum curators would be prevented from creating exhibits that it believed to be "politically correct."  I assume the SCV would bring along their own "curators."  In other words, the museum would stop doing serious public history.  More to the point Bowling wants to turn the museum into a "shrine to the Confederacy" which he believes was the original purpose of the museum.  Notice the lovely religious overtones.  Families would gather inside the MOC not to learn about the history of the South, but to pray. 

It is important to keep in mind that not everyone in the SCV supports Bowling’s goals.  There are plenty in the rank and file who are quite content with the management at the MOC and its agenda.  It is important for these people to voice their concerns and try to reign in Bowling and others who are currently engaged in what appears to be a publicity campaign for the SCV rather than concern surrounding the MOC.  They may be doing more damage to the future of the MOC than they care to admit. 

Again, the important point for now is that the MOC is not and has no plans to talk with the SCV about any type of involvement in the management of its operations.


The National Park Service and Lincoln Memorial: An Update

[Hat-Tip to GreeneSpace]

On February 22 I posted an item in response to National Review writer David L. Schaefer who criticized the NPS for part of its website on the Lincoln Memorial which contextualizes the building and commemoration of the site.  The article "Deconstructing the Lincoln Memorial" cites one short page of the website and generalizes from there in terms of the NPS’s failure to consider Lincoln’s emancipation record and role in saving the Union.  Even after a cursory scanning of the website it was clear that the NPS offers a fairly sophisticated account of the history of Lincoln and goes far in establishing his importance to the overall history of the country.  Unfortunately I learned today that the specific page referred to in the National Review piece has been deleted. 

Of course there is no way to know whether it is coincidence, but I suspect that pressure was placed on the NPS to delete it.  It’s disappointing to know that a poorly written article by someone who clearly had his conclusions drawn about the politics of the NPS could have this much influence on an institution that takes its responsibility of interpretating America’s historic places seriously.  We need to understand our memorials and other public sites not simply as memorials to the past, but as reflections of the individuals and society that created them.  Why would this be any different for the Lincoln Memorial?


Some Thoughts From The CEO Of The Museum Of The Confederacy

Given the recent news surrounding the Museum of the Confederacy and the latest news regarding the SCV’s interest in taking control of the board of directors, I thought I might share this letter-to-the-editor written by S. Waite Rawls.  The letter is in response to an article which appeared in a recent issue of the University of Virginia Magazine on new tours of the grounds that explore slave life on campus.  The article is titled "Scripting History" and was written by Paul Evans who is a teaching colleague of mine.

"Scripting History" in the winter issue was very interesting, as it pointed out the great difficulty of dealing with many aspects of American history that preceded the abolition of slavery.  Monticello and Mount Vernon do a very good job of dealing quite frankly and accurately with the slave labor that supported Jefferson and Washington, yet a cloud hangs over both men in the culture of our current times.

It is even more difficult, yet more important, when the topic changes to the Civil War and, especially, the Confederacy.  Several years ago, I became president and CEO of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.  It is the oldest, largest and most important Civil War museum and research library in the country.  The Civil War is one of, if not the most important portions of American history that all Americans should understand, regardless of whether their ancestors fought in gray or in blue, or were still in India, Mexico or China.  Yet the cloud of slavery hangs heavy over all things Confederate these days, and normally intelligent people would rather erase the memory than discuss it–more reminiscent of efforts in China, Russia, or Afghanistan to erase history than what we Americans are supposed to do.

Instead, Americans should work hard to understand the real history of why the Civil War came about, and how it was fought, and what its outcomes have been.  That is particularly true of graduates of Mr. Jefferson’s University, which furnished twice as many officers for the Confederate army than any other school


Museum of the Sons of Confederate Veterans?

The Richmond Times-Dispatch is reporting that the Sons of Confederate Veterans would like to take control of operations of the Museum of the Confederacy:

Conditions at the museum have declined steadily for the past few years,” said Frank Earnest, state commander of the 4,000-member Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “The current administration has brought the situation to near crisis.”  During a news conference today at the Confederate Memorial Chapel on Grove Avenue, Earnest said his group plans to meet with the museum’s board of trustees within a month to offer to take over the board and to discuss the replacement of the museum’s president and CEO, Waite Rawls.

I can see it now, special viewings of Gone With the Wind, Birth of a Nation, and Gods and Generals.