Museum of the Confederacy Will Move

Many of you no doubt have already read that the Museum of the Confederacy (MOC) will be looking to move in the next few years.  The plans also involve keeping the White House of the Confederacy in its present location.  From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The Museum and White House of the Confederacy, which maintains the world’s most comprehensive collections of Confederate artifacts, manuscripts and photographs, has been losing visitors and income for years as the continued development of VCU has nearly swallowed its small campus. Since the early 1990s, annual visitation has dropped from 92,000 to about 51,500. The museum’s deficit is expected to reach $700,000 this year.

In response to its financial woes, the institution cut its operating hours last month. The museum is now closed on Wednesdays from Labor Day to Memorial Day, and the White House will be closed for public tours in January and February.

Anyone who has visited the MOC in the past few years has put up with having to deal with the traffic and parking in the middle of VCU’s medical facilities.  As I’ve said all along, moving the MOC is really the only possible solution.  What that means for the White House remains to be seen. 

As much as the gradual decline in visitation can be attributed to the MOC’s location there may be other factors involved.  The sharp increase in the number of public controversies involving the Confederate flag has perhaps alienated a certain number.  There may be the perception that a visit to the MOC is some kind of public statement in support of the flag. 

I pointed out in my review of the new American Civil War Museum at Tredegar that their focus on slavery and a more sophisticated overall interpretation may in the end alienate certain groups who are interested either in a heavy dose of the military and/or an overall sanitized interpretation of the war.  One of the things that continues to strike me is the almost complete absence of support for the MOC from SCV organizations and other Southern Heritage groups.  No fund-raisers and as far as I can tell and no literature to inform the public about the Museum’s dire situation.  So, how should we explain this?  Not too long ago I commented on a news story involving the Edmund Ruffin Fire Eaters Camp (SCV) who called for the removal of Waite Rawls who is currently the Executive Director of the MOC.  I can only conclude from this that there is a perception out there among heritage groups that the MOC’s interpretation/mission has moved too far from the outlines of the Lost Cause. 

As a historian who concentrates on memory and the South I couldn’t be more pleased with their recent exhibits and overall push to bring a more mature interpretation of the Confederacy and the South to the general public.  A final thought: Perhaps as the staff prepares for this important move they should also think about changing the name of the museum.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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4 comments… add one
  • Harry Liniger Feb 22, 2007 @ 19:44

    It is with deep regret that I read Confederacy is being considered to be dropped from the name of the museum. The anscestors of those brave troops who gave all for the cause may be wondering why the relics they donated will be displayed in a format that is not dedicated to the Confederacy. The museum should remain the same and stay tied to the White House. I am sure if the college wants it moved bad enough they would be willing to buy some land in Richmond to move it to.

  • Kim Oct 26, 2006 @ 18:42

    Changing the name of the museum is probably a good idea. I hope that, whatever solution they come up with, the museum stays in Virginia. Thanks for this post!

  • Kevin Levin Oct 20, 2006 @ 5:33

    Donald, — Thanks so much for sharing this. It definitely puts this in a broader historical context, though I am still not clear on why this was the case. Something to think about.

  • Donald Thompson Oct 20, 2006 @ 0:45

    The fact that no Southern heritage groups have gone on fund raising missions for the Museum of the Confederacy won’t be surprising after reading this excerpt from the February 16th, 1936 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

    40 Years Ago The Confederate Museum Opened
    In Four Decades, Records Show That Many More Northerners Than Southerners Have Paid Homage at This Shrine of Shrines
    By Ross Wells

    Down from the North–the feet of thousands of pilgrims have worn a well-defined path to the White House of the Confederacy.

    Up from the South–scarcely a twig has been broken or a blade bent in the trek to this greatest of all Southern shines as compared with the flow from Yankee-land.

    This “Believe It or Not” condition has been observed casually through the years, but it remained for the close scrutiny of the register, made for the observance of the fortieth anniversary of the dedication of the Confederate Museum by the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, custodian of the historic building and collection, which occurs next Saturday, to reveal in all its startling clarity the fact that of the average 13,000 visitors annually to the Clay and 12th Street building, a large majority come from north of the Mason and Dixon line.

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