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.
I don’t have much to add to Brooks Simpson’s post about the controversy surrounding whether the new branch of the Museum of the Confederacy at Appomattox should fly a Confederate flag outside of the facility. To be honest, I haven’t given it much thought, though I agree with Brooks that it would be appropriate to fly Third National flag opposite the US national colors for 1865.
Let me venture a guess as to why the MOC has chosen not to fly the Confederate flag in front of the building and it has nothing to do with hollow accusations of political correctness and the like. The Confederate flag has become symbolic of very little that has to do with its Civil War past and that, in large part, is due to the actions of the very people who claim to cherish it as a symbol of their Southern heritage. Their defense of every nitwit who comes along looking to stir up controversy with the flag and the mainstream media’s obsession with publicizing these stories as part of the “Continued War” narrative has rendered the flag as virtually meaningless. It is nothing more than something we argue about.
The MOC has an interest in not alienating the general public by flying the flag in full public view; rather its mission is to educate and I have little doubt that it will succeed with the Confederate flag as one of its most important artifacts. You would think that after so many butchered images of the flag that the MOC’s decision to showcase and interpret the real thing would be met with a sigh of relief from the heritage crowd.
This morning neo-Confederate crusader Edward Sebesta posted the third of his four-part series on the Museum of the Confederacy. Sebesta is convinced that the museum stands at the center of the neo-Confederate cause: “The 3rd installment covers how the MOC creates Confederate identification amongst its supporters, visitors, and others by being a shrine and reliquary.” This most recent entry displays the same shoddy analysis and research that can be found in the other parts. According to Sebesta, this is clearly reflected in the museum’s flag conservation program:
National flags are by definition national identifiers. Confederate flags are those flags adopted by the Confederacy in its quest to be a nation and were intended to serve as a symbol of the Confederate nation. The conservation of flags, like the conservation of any historical artifact, is a legitimate activity for a museum. However, flags are powerful instruments of national identity and act as such – it is the purpose for which they designed. The MOC uses Confederate flags as symbols that both assert and reinforce Confederate national identity.
Sebesta seems to think that the financial support for this project by the Sons of Confederate Veterans implies that the flag’s restoration is for their benefit only and that its purpose is to keep alive the Confederate cause. This is absurd. First, there is nothing necessarily wrong with the SCV offering financial support to the museum nor is there any conflict of interest for the MOC in accepting and publicizing it. The flags belong to all of us.
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Central Ohio Civil War Round Table
One of my first posts all the way back in 2005 focused on what I saw as the inevitable decline of our Civil War round tables. I suggested that without a resurgence of interest in the Civil War era that animated Americans in the early 1960s these groups would disappear one by one. In light of the last two posts I stand by the claim that I made over six years ago.
On Saturday the Museum of the Confederacy hosted a day-long event that culminated in a “Person of the Year: 1862″ that was decided by an overwhelmingly older audience. That same day the Sons of Confederate Veterans were forced to relocate an event that had been scheduled at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church as part of their national rally. These two stories have more in common than you might think. Both organizations cater to a centennial generation.
I have no idea why church officials canceled the SCV’s event yesterday. That said, it seems safe to assume that enough people within the church community found out about it and voiced their disapproval. Whatever, the reason they didn’t want their church to host an SCV event and the reason for this must rest with the SCV itself, which has done everything in their power over the past few years to alienate reasonable people. Take a look at any photograph from Saturday’s rally along Monument Avenue and what stands out is that hardly anyone showed up. As far as I can tell the former capital of the Confederacy paid no notice of the SCV’s presence. And those who were present overwhelmingly represented an older crowd.
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Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis all prayed at the church at one point or another during the war. It was there in April 1865 that Davis learned that Richmond must be evacuated. So, why the cold shoulder? It’s hard to tell at this point, but here is what we know. Yesterday the Sons of Confederate Veterans held their National Heritage Rally in the city, which was to include a panel discussion titled, “Debunking the Myth of the White Confederate Military” at the church The panelists were to include Teresa Roane archivist at the Museum of the Confederacy and Eric Richardson, who is currently a graduate student in history at North Carolina Central University. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is doing some very interesting research at the MOC. It is highly unlikely that the title of the panel or the panelists themselves were responsible for the church’s change of heart. The panel was to be followed by a revival service at the church. Apparently,
at the last minute some time on Friday church officials canceled the event.
The day began with a small rally of SCV faithful at the Lee monument on Monument Avenue. At least one unit marched while chanting the following:
What do we do?
All of them
Would you want these people in your church?
Note: Updates will be posted as more information becomes available.