Sunday, February 26, 2012
The Museum of the Confederacy – A Brief Look At A Worsening Situation
By Valerie Protopapas
The Original Spirit of the Museum of the Confederacy:
The glory, the hardships, the heroism of the war were a noble heritage for our children. To keep green such memories and to commemorate such virtues, it is our purpose to gather together and preserve in the Executive Mansion of the Confederacy the sacred relics of those glorious days.
"The need of an organization to preserve a true and faithful record of the gallant struggle made by the soldiers of the South for independence being keenly felt, the Confederate Memorial Literary Society was chartered and organized under the laws of Virginia, its object being to teach all future generations the true history of the war and the principles for which these soldiers laid down their lives."[From the first paragraph of the Introduction Page: Catalogue of the Confederate Museum of the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, 1905]
Dedication of Administrators from Earlier Days:
"(W)e must pray that others will rise up to carry on the trust."[Former Board President Sally Archer Anderson, 1926]
Warnings of a New Direction:
“We’re the Museum of the Confederacy, not the Museum for the Confederacy”[Former director Robin Reed, 1988-2001*] [*dates approximate] "It’s not a memorial or a shrine, it’s a museum and research center."[Present Director S. Waite Rawls]
Antecedents of the Current Situation:
Present Director of the MoC, S. Waite Rawls has rightly declared that the Museum of the Confederacy should “tell our story” and by that, one assumes he means the story of the attempt by certain Southern states to secede from the Union – including what brought the people of those states to this position, what they did and the constitutional basis for their actions, the war they waged against the attempt by the federal government and the states remaining in the Union to forcibly return them to that entity and so forth. Unfortunately, those whom Rawls has chosen to tell that “story” are men like Gary Gallagher, co-author of “The Myth of the Lost Cause” and Irwin Jordan – a so-called “black Confederate expert” – whose book refers to these brave black men who fought beside their fellow Confederates rather than in segregated commands under white officers as “zealots of the wrong”.
Nor is Rawls the first administrator of the MoC who seems to think that “our story” is best told by “those people” to quote General Robert E. Lee. Indeed, he seems to be only the last of a rather long and sorry parade of like-minded individuals. One of Rawls’ predecessors opened the Museum for lectures by such as Alan Nolan, author of the book, “Lee Considered”. Nolan is a lawyer from Wisconsin, a notable champion of the Union’s “Iron Brigade” and no friend of Lee or the Confederacy. In 1999, Curator Malinda Collier was quoted as saying in an article on the Museum’s plans for a 130th year exhibit on Robert E. Lee, that the exhibition would attempt to explain "how this man who led a traitorous army" nevertheless rose from the status of sectional hero to one of the foremost American heroes of all time. Most recently, in continuation of this apparent celebration of all things hostile to the Confederacy and its heroes, the prestigious “Jefferson Davis Award” was bestowed upon a work entitled “Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters by Elizabeth Brown Pryor. This book was advertised as a revelation of Lee based upon newly discovered correspondence but instead, it is a politically correct character assassination consisting of the author’s perceptions of Lee which are supposedly validated by a very few previously unpublished letters. Of course, there were kudos from the usual establishment “historians and critics” – and outcries from Museum members about what was either a total lapse of judgment on the part of the Administration or another example of the deviation in the museum’s goals and policies from its founding principles. In fact, given what has happened since Director Rawls’ installation, one has to wonder just whose “story” this gentleman wants told.
The attitude that Director Rawls is ostensibly attempting to counter by virtue of his ongoing collaboration with these foes of Southern culture, history and heritage, was clearly enunciated by author James McPherson. In 1999 McPherson gave an interview with Ed Sebesta on the liberal Pacifica Radio network program Democracy Now! on the subject of the Museum of the Confederacy and its Lone Star Ball fundraising event as well as Sebesta’s views on the historical Confederacy and modern day organizations connected with it. Sebesta stated that the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy were created with the motive of celebrating the Confederacy, including the use of slavery in the Confederate economy, and white supremacy. The interview with McPherson . . . included the following statement: ". . . I agree a 100% with Ed Sebesta about the motives or the hidden agenda . . . of such groups as the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. They are dedicated to celebrating the Confederacy and rather thinly veiled support for white supremacy. And I think that also is . . . (the) hidden agenda of the Confederate flag issue in several southern states."
Apparently, however, MoC’s Administration had made sufficient “brownie points” with McPherson, for him to state that it had changed its orientation, from its original purpose of celebrating the Confederacy: “Over time, and especially in the last decade or two,” said McPherson, “it (the MoC) has become a much more professional, research-oriented, professional exhibit-oriented facility . . ." In other words, the “politically correct” Mr. McPherson approved of the MoC and its present “orientation”. Thus, the actions of Director Reed and Curator Collier, among others I’m sure, had won over McPherson and perhaps some of his fellow travelers. But one has to wonder if in doing so, their actions compensated for the abandonment of the original mission of the MoC as stated in writing by its founders and their betrayal of most of the present contributors to the Museum of whom one must doubt that either Mr. McPherson or Mr. Sebasta in fact, are.
As a further attempt to “revitalize” the institution, present Director Rawls told a reporter that he was thinking of partnering the MoC with the slavery museum in Fredericksburg as well as the planned museum at Fort Monroe should the MoC be moved in whole or in part to those locations. Parenthetically, as Fort Monroe was a haven for runaway slaves, one must suppose that any museum at that location would be largely if not principally devoted to that issue. Yet Rawls seems unconcerned that such establishments tend to be extremely one-sided in their treatment of the very complex subject of slavery – and are usually rabidly anti-Confederate in their focus. However, even Rawls’ efforts are not universally successful and there were considerable negative responses from Lexington’s “black community” and their white supporters when it was discovered that Lexington was being considered as a site for the MoC. One Al Hockaday –owner of two local stores, we are told – voiced his less than rational concerns about the impact of the MoC on Lexington as a whole. "I think the negative impacts would be more than the city could bear," this gentleman opined and further predicted that minority enrollment would drastically diminish at local universities because the museum would erode the town’s social climate. One wonders about the intelligence of people who entertain – much less publicly express – such grossly irrational and supremely ignorant viewpoints! Nonetheless, despite the stupidity of these comments, Rawls addressed them by assuring Mr. Hockaday and others that the MoC is “not a memorial or a shrine. It’s a museum and research center." Sheryl Wagner, director of marketing for Rockbridge tourism, pointed out that there had been “miscommunication” about the name. “You have to consider that the museum is about learning, not promoting the Confederacy." Apparently, Rawls believes that these are the people and the communities that would “enhance” the future of the Museum. That being the case, one has to wonder what sort of “future” Mr. Rawls envisions for the institution if he finds these sentiments and those who express them, acceptable and even positive.
If this – and other incidents too numerous to mention – weren’t enough, Director Rawls has also determined that the Museum of the Confederacy needs the “blessing” of the NAACP. The ongoing assault by that organization on all things traditionally Southern and/or Confederate is well known and undeniable. In fact, its actions have prolonged its existence far beyond any usefulness – and made a considerable profit out of being “offended” by all things Southern, demanding that they be removed, expunged and/or buried in the deepest possible pit, never again to see the light of day. Therefore, it is hardly strange that no “official blessing” was forthcoming from these overly-sensitive souls when Rawls approached them at one meeting. However, our intrepid Director was thrown a crumb for his conscientious groveling when the Spotsylvania NAACP graciously consented to consider the matter providing, of course, that the MoC tells “the whole story” of the “Civil War” (sic). Those familiar with the lexicon of political correctness know instinctively that this means “tell it our way or else!”
Yet, this might not be a problem given Mr. Rawls’ understanding of the patrons he wishes to attract to the MoC. In a statement made to the Fort Monroe organization in an attempt to make the institution more “palatable”, Rawls complained that those criticizing the Museum have misperceptions and that, its visitors, in Rawls’ words are "…NOT the redneck in the pickup truck with the T-shirt on that you might think of.” Rather, according to Rawls, visitors to the Confederacy museum are "well-educated, retired, married couples who are history buffs” . These sentiments – clearly illustrative of Rawls’ elitism – require no comment; they speak for themselves.
Finally, according to the report on the Fort Monroe plan by Conover Hunt, the authority’s interim executive director, the idea was to bring in experts in African-American history, Union history and Confederate history with said “experts” collaborating at a symposium and offering a comprehensive plan for a museum campus. But the question then is, whose “experts”? Does anyone seriously believe that they will not be the same “experts” who have been defining the era’s history from the beginning? Consequently, can any intelligent person believe that the “Confederacy” will receive objective, fair and balanced treatment? The answer to that is, I believe, painfully obvious.
How did Rawls react to all of the foregoing? Well, among other things, he openly considered removing the name “Confederate” from the title of the institution! With what he would have replaced it one cannot possibly imagine, but it is indicative of the direction in which this institution has been going for far too long that the matter was even broached. And with regards to the NAACP, Rawls is on record as saying, “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." It certainly would do that! But to the people for whom this institution is not just a collection of relics from a dead past, the “signal” sent by such an arrangement would be unjustifiable, undesirable and, given the NAACP’s sordid history, intolerable.
The crux of the problem was brought to light in an April 4th, 2007 newspaper article in the Washington Post. Under the headline: . . the onetime "Shrine of the South" . . . faces an uncertain future – History’s Changing Tide:
“Attendance (for the MoC) has dropped by nearly half over the past decade . . . (a)nd this is in Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy . . . It may even have to change its name. That same doleful report said the Museum of the Confederacy, though it has made efforts to distance itself from being an unabashed shrine, still ‘conjures up in the public mind images of slavery, racism, and intolerance. . . . [It] carries enormous, intransigent, and negative intellectual and emotional baggage.’"
The article then quotes Rawls as saying, " ‘. . . the museum was where Confederate veterans came to give their items to make a statement. Richmond was the epicenter of the Civil War. . . So yes, there’s a symbolic message to our moving.’ [and can’t we all guess what that message is!]
“But (the article states) it’s also about a historic shift in the mind-set of the white South, whose psychological underpinnings were held together for more than a century by the romantic ideal of "the lost cause" of the Confederacy. This held the antebellum world as a largely mythological place, a land of moonlight and magnolias, of "Gone With the Wind," of mint juleps and Henry Timrod’s ‘Ode to the Confederate Dead at Magnolia Cemetery’:
Stoop, angels, hither from the skies!
There is no holier spot of ground
Than where defeated valor lies . . .
Swept Away By History.
“These sorts of atmospherics floated about in the cultural id, but the tangible remnants of the belief were preserved here (the MoC): Robert E. Lee’s uniform, the plumed hat of J.E.B. Stuart, hundreds of battle flags, thousands of soldiers’ letters from mud-filled trenches that soon would become their graves. People brought such things from across the war-ravaged South, thousands of them, artifacts presented with such reverence that they were called ‘sacred relics.’”
So here, in a nutshell, is the course on which the Administration of the MoC has chosen to embark and the reasons for that choice. Though the North is filled with “shrines” to those who died in order to coerce the South by military might back into a union that the vast majority of its people had rejected, the South apparently is not permitted any such shrine to the memory of those who resisted that tyranny with their last full measure of devotion. In fact, it probably won’t even be permitted to retain as historical relics the artifacts of its past because they “offend” the sensibilities of the politically correct – black and white. In the meanwhile, it seems that the present Administration of the Museum of the Confederacy is doing its damnedest to make the transition from shrine to tomb as rapid and as covert as possible.