Museum of the Confederacy and NAACP Working Together?

This is a promising development.  Many of you are aware that the Museum of the Confederacy hopes to spread its wings in the coming years as a way of getting out from under the shadow and construction cranes around the VCU Medical Center.  This will involve moving its collection to four different locations in time for or during the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  One of the locations currently under consideration is in Spotsylvania Court House.  In preparation for this move MOC President Waite Rawls has met with various local organizations including the Spotsylvania Chapter of the NAACP.  Surprisingly, they seem to be receptive to the museum:

On Thursday, he [Rawls] met with the NAACP at Mount Hope Baptist Church.
About 50 people attended, along with five Spotsylvania supervisors.  "What we are looking for is balance," said NAACP member Col. Horace
McCaskill. "We’re not adverse to learning about the Confederacy side,
but we want the whole story to be told, and we need to understand that."  The "whole story" means "all cultures involved in the Civil War,"
including the roles of free and enslaved blacks and Americans Indian,
he said.

Layton Fairchild, a former candidate for the Board of Supervisors, said people want to know the truth about the war.  "There are a lot of stereotypes on both sides, the white side of
history and the black side of history," he said. "If we had an
institution come in and say ‘This is how it happened and let’s get
educated,’ I think that is the most important thing."

Even the name of the museum itself has not proven to be a stumbling block for some:

Cleo Coleman, a history buff whose great-grandfather was a free black, said the name of the museum does not bother her.

"But I am certainly aware of the fact that it has some negative
connotations for people, and I am not sure how we bridge that," she

Rawls has even suggested using the MOC as a meeting location for the
NAACP: "One of the things I would love to have in the Museum of the
Confederacy here is an NAACP meeting. It would send a signal to all
Americans of what we are all about," he said.  It’s not clear what
Rawls has in mind, but it does present an opportunity to market the
museum to the area’s black population, and particularly local schools.
I’ve talked with people at both the MOC and National Civil War Museum at Tredegar
about how difficult it is to forge working relationships with the areas
public schools.  John Coski is fond of pointing out that the MOC is not
a museum for the Confederacy, but a museum about the
Confederacy.  That story, of course, has at its root the story of
slavery and race which must be told.   No museum has done more in
recent years to get that story out than the MOC; unfortunately, its
name and the popular legacy of the Confederacy has made it difficult
for the museum to market its scholarly/educational agenda.

While I am very sensitive to the concerns of the NAACP when it comes
to our public memory of the Civil War they have been way too dismissive
of the MOC’s efforts over the past few years to reach out to the black
community.  The most extreme elements are as bad, if not worse, than
the "Neo-Confederate" yahoos who maintain an aggressive posture against
any attempt to address the importance of slavery and race within a
museum context, whether it is at the MOC or anywhere else for that
matter.  Unfortunately, the NAACP has in recent years been preoccupied
with high-profile stands surrounding the location of the Confederate
flag in South Carolina.  Whether the accommodating stance of the
Spotsylvania chapter of the NAACP is a sign of institutional changes on
a broader scale is unknown at this point. 

I for one would love to see the NAACP take advantage of this opportunity.  They don’t seem to come around that often.

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6 comments… add one
  • Kevin Levin Mar 15, 2009 @ 4:05

    I couldn’t agree more. Institutions such as the NAACP and Museum of the Confederacy have nothing to lose and everything to gain by talking with one another. Much of the misunderstanding between the local black community in the Richmond area and the MOC has to do with the failure to talk openly about sensitive issues. It’s disappointing because the MOC’s staff is eager to engage the community. Of course, much of the problem has to do with the MOC being perceived as a museum for the Confederacy rather than a museum about the Confederacy.

    I agree that Bynum’s research offers a very complex view of race relations in the South during the Civil War. You many not know this, but Prof. Bynum maintains a blog called Renegade South; you can find a link to her site in my Blogroll. Thanks for taking the time to write.

  • ZSun-nee Mar 14, 2009 @ 12:33

    Any day people are engaged in deciphering history is a good day. I teach urban students 75% African American, 20% white and 5% Asian, Hispanic and African. They tend to be above average students yet, the majority lack a relationship with the world at large and see history mostly in local terms. They need the kind of input that would come from an association and dialogue between the NAACP and the Museum. I am a First Person Presenter. I tend to re-inact atypical moments from the Civil War, moments that divulge the little known histories of blacks and whites reacting to the Civil War. I know the value of getting people together to share the true stories of all that happened. The stories tend not to be black or white but black and white. Victoria Bynum, who wrote Unruly Women, has added quite a bit to the understanding of relationships that extended from slavery to the Civil War. I refer to her book during lectures because it proves as I have found that things are never as they are popularly depicted. There are many reasons for the NAACP and the Museum of the Confederacy to talk and share histories. I wish them well.

  • Kevin Levin Jun 23, 2008 @ 10:51

    I agree Jim. Any opportunity to share the past with the public should be encouraged. It will be very interesting to see how all of this plays out, but with the sesquicentennial only a few years down the road it is likely that a fairly large number of people will be able to see these artifacts.

  • Jim Jun 23, 2008 @ 10:37

    I think that it is a great move by the Museum of the Confederacy to put the artifacts in context instead of letting them rot in an obscure building. The vast majority of artifacts are military related and belong in a battlefield context. Besides many of these battlefield sites lack any artifacts to display of any kind unless they are rusty relics found before the park was founded.
    Many of these artifacts are in great condition for being 140+ years old and will make great displays.

  • Kevin Levin Mar 13, 2008 @ 7:09

    Elisabeth, — I couldn’t agree more. The biggest challenge the MOC faces is their public image so any opportunity to engage with the black community should be encouraged. I did see the first installment of the Gates’s documentary and hope to catch the second at some point.

  • Elisabeth Payne Rosen Mar 13, 2008 @ 0:45

    I find this whole story just incredibly encouraging. Whatever eventually happens at Spotsylvania–whether the MOC locates there or doesn’t–is less important than that local citizens, black and white, are meeting together and TALKING. NOTHING will ever substitute for or outweight that, in my humble opinion.

    Best quote: “There are a lot of stereotypes on both sides, the white side of history and the black side of history,” he said. “If we had an institution come in and say ‘This is how it happened and let’s get educated,’ I think that is the most important thing.” Check out Henry Louis Gates wonderful documentary, “Black Americans 2” on PBS; if you missed it, I’m sure they’ll repeat it soon.

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