The Face of Public History (Part 2)

Chickamauga Visitor Center

This past week I was reminded of just how upsetting it can be for African American to have to confront the Confederate flag when visiting a Civil War site. I don’t care how many H.K. Edgertons and Karen Coopers you embrace, in the end, many blacks feel alienated and/or unwelcome when visiting these sites. There should be no doubt about why this is the case given the history of the Confederate flag.

It is with that in mind that I share the above photo, which I took in the visitor center at the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park last week. The flag bunting lines both walls as you enter the building, one side of which features Confederate and the other Union generals. I was told by the staff that every once in a while they have to respond to a complaint, which I was not surprised to hear. As to the history behind the decision to feature both sides in this way I cannot say, but I find it to be both respectful and welcoming to all Americans. Of course, Confederate regiments out west utilized a number of flags in battle so perhaps that has something to do with the choice.

Given the last post, I also can’t imagine too many Confederate veterans having a problem with such a display.

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18 comments… add one
  • Caldwell Aug 17, 2013 @ 14:42

    Like this:

    “…and we deeply regret that the multitude of African Kingdoms, specifically those located on the West Cost of Africa, who, in the interest of obtaining riches, wealth, and prosperity, eagerly enslaved their fellow countrymen for the cruel and unconscionable purpose of selling them to the Amercan slave traders of Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. And we further call upon the guilty Africans to openly acknowledge their full complicity in these heinous crimes and barbaric practices, and to issue a sincere and profound apology for these crimes…”

    Ya know, something like that…

    • Patrick Young Aug 17, 2013 @ 16:20

      Still haven’t answered my question.

      For someone who wrote; “No sir, those unique degradations and cruelties were inflicted on them under cover of the American Flag. Why then, for crying out loud, do African-Americans not run from the room waiving their hands over their head at the mere site of an American Flag?” you seem uniquely intent on diffusing the blame. Is this because your intent is other than to valorize the suffering of enslaved people or to recognize the still lingering effects of slavery and Jim Crow?

  • Caldwell Aug 17, 2013 @ 10:40

    Patrick: I found it ironic that you answered my tendentious inquiry, well, tendentiously.

    Kevin; I am very much in favor of an apology. Just so long as the apology includes and fully recognizes the respective guilt of the all the Northern slave owners, all the African -American slave owners, all the New England Slave traders, all the Northern merchants and manufacturers who did business with and profited by the slave owners, all the Northern consumers who purchased and utilized the products of slave labor, and all the African Kings and countries who sold their African brothers and sisters into slavery. I am only too happy to support that apology.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 17, 2013 @ 10:45

      Whatever allows you to sleep better at night. 🙂

    • Patrick Young Aug 17, 2013 @ 12:26

      How does the US apologize for “all the African Kings and countries who sold their African brothers and sisters into slavery” and how would you know which kings sold siblings?

  • Caldwell Aug 17, 2013 @ 9:01

    Interesting replies, but unfortunately both attempt to casually minimize or completely ignore the myriad injustices and brutalities African-Americans endured under the American Flag. And because the most guilty of all the perpetrators of the barbaric trans-Atlantic slave trade were the British, African-Americans should howl in terror each and every time they see the Union Jack. By the way, the Declaration of Indepedence was written by a man who owned, quite literally, hundreds of slaves, abused them, never freed a single one, and who proclaimed that Americans were seeking independence, in part, because King George was interfering with their right to own slaves. I wonder if African-Americans shriek with terror each and every time they see the Jefferson Memorial in D.C. We can talk about the plethora of honorifics given to slave owner George Washington, and the African-Amercan response to them, the next time.

    • Patrick Young Aug 17, 2013 @ 9:17

      Caldwell, you asked: “Why then, for crying out loud, do African-Americans not run from the room waiving their hands over their head at the mere site of an American Flag?” and I answered that question. I did nothing “to casually minimize or completely ignore the myriad injustices and brutalities African-Americans endured.” I just answered your tendentious inquiry.

      As for your characterization of “the African-American population” engaging in “ridiculous theatrics and comical antics”, I think that phrase speaks volumes about your pretended concern for historical justice.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 17, 2013 @ 9:43

      No one denies that unethical things have taken place throughout this country’s history. The difference is that our founding ideals give us something noble to strive toward. The Confederacy’s founding ideas, however, run contrary to everything we as Americans hold dear.

      Funny that the same people who insist on making this point tend also not to support an official apology for slavery by the federal government.

  • Caldwell Aug 16, 2013 @ 21:07

    Not a single African-American endured the foul and degrading hardships of the middle passage under the auspices of the Confederate Flag. No sir, those unique degradations and cruelties were inflicted on them under cover of the American Flag. Why then, for crying out loud, do African-Americans not run from the room waiving their hands over their head at the mere site of an American Flag? Why does the African-American population reserve these ridiculous theatrics and comical antics for Confederate Flag? Such nonsense.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 17, 2013 @ 1:53

      Fascinating analysis. Perhaps you should ask your African-American friends.

      The United States abolished the practice of importing slaves from outside in 1808. That means the vast majority arrived during British rule. By the early nineteenth century the increase in the slave population was due to natural reproduction, the majority of whom lived in the South.

      I think it has something to do with the fact that the Confederate government was established specifically to protect and expand slavery. At least that is what the leaders of the new government said.

    • Patrick Young Aug 17, 2013 @ 3:12

      Ummm, black people can live freely and vote and be president in the US. I’m guessing that had the Confederacy endured we would not today be celebrating Barak Obama as a successor to Jeff Davis.

      • Kevin Levin Aug 17, 2013 @ 3:53

        It’s one of those cut and past comments. Truly bizarre.

  • Bobby Edwards Aug 16, 2013 @ 5:18

    I have been to Gettysburg three times, and in those trips have found very few black visitors. Just a fact, but with the exception of one of the private museums, there are no Confederate flags flying in Gettysburg at the NPS or the battlefields.

    Over the years, too many have worked against the preservation of Confederate memory, and the literary attacks against Confederates or descendants have become a form of blood sport and enjoyment. An obsessive preoccupation that only the South created the black problem is too myopic, and for those who issue article after article of prejudice against descendants, who revere their Confederate ancestors, is a form of refined bigotry that is also dangerous.

    In the 1880’s and 1890’s the G.A.R. and Confederate Veteran groups such as the R. E. Lee Camp No. 1 C.V. corresponded often, visited each others cities, and joined a common cause of healing the country. The Phil Kearny G.A.R. Post in Richmond sponsored the efforts of the Lee Camps Soldiers’ Home, and the project endorsed by General Grant with the nation joining in. There were national efforts in New York with plays and musicals to raise funds for the Southern Soldiers’ Home, as well as Washington D.C. and notables like Corcoran of the Corcoran Art Gallery, would donate substantial sums of money. A Col of the 7th New York, Col Appleton would build a cottage at the Soldiers’ Home, and the Lander Post of Lynn, Mass. in July of 1887 would bring an Organ to be placed in the newly opened Confederate Memorial Chapel.

    The Stitching Together of this country occurred with the efforts of Confederate Veteran Organizations and G.A.R. Union Veteran groups, although there were still many differences such as their interpretation of events and reasons for fighting. The Lee Camp was populated with West Pointers, William and Mary,VMI, and University of Virginia graduates, providing the leaders of the state with businessmen and politicians. Their beginnings with meetings in the 1st Virginia National Guard Armory, had Confederate artifacts and accouterments on one side of the meeting hall, and on the other side of the meeting hall were Union accouterments. After moving out of the Armory into the Assembly Hall, the Lee Camp invited the Union Veterans into their Assembly Hall for many meetings. The Assembly Hall flew on the outside, a Union Flag and a Confederate Flag, but not always – as when one of the Presidents visited in the 1890’s, the Assembly Hall flew the Confederate Battle flag, just a few blocks from the Capitol. General John B. Gordon, the first U.C.V. Commander had an American Standard for the first Reunion of United Confederate Veterans, but in later years the Confederate Veteran reunions would fall back to their standard Battle Flags, or National Flags & Battle Flag array.

    Proper Respect to both parties of the war need to exhibit both flags at Civil War Museum, inside and outside, as well as any Reenactment or Historical Interpretation. Otherwise, if only one symbol is shown, there would be disrespect to the other. The Old Boys from the 1880’s at the 1st Virginia Armory had the right message – A Respect for Each Other, Showing the Flags of Both Sides, is the “Proper” form of Military Protocol.

    For More Stories of the R. E. Lee Camp No. 1 Confederate Veterans

  • Rob Baker Aug 15, 2013 @ 10:31

    Well said. Consideration goes a long way. A simple switch of the flag can mean all the difference, and it does not infringe on anyone’s right to remember their ancestor. The big ‘stank’ with many of the flag advocates, as I see it, is a political stance. They are projecting their Goldwater Conservatism on the past.

  • Pamela Winterbottom Neilson Aug 15, 2013 @ 9:52

    I think a visitor center like the one at CHC is very appropriate. I live in Tidewater, VA but was born and raised in New York City. My great-grandfather served in the Union Navy. In Tidewater I often see pickup trucks flying the Confederate Battle Flag or having a decal of the flag on the rear window. My gut reaction to this is negative. However, one of my neighbors has a SCV license plate with his ancestor’s regiment and company on it and that I like. My neighbor and I often talk about the service of our ancestors during the Civil War. Maybe my feelings are not logical but they are sincere.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 15, 2013 @ 9:55

      Thanks for the comment.

  • Eric Leonard Aug 15, 2013 @ 8:54

    The visitor center design at CHC was inspired by the veterans reunions of the 1880s and 1890s that led to the preservation of the battlefield and continued there in the years after the establishment of the park.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 15, 2013 @ 8:56

      Interesting. I know that CHC was begun with the intention of forging strong bonds of reconciliation, but I didn’t realize that the VC design stemmed from it as well. Thanks, Eric.

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