Davis statue may be moving on

Richmond museum wouldn’t guarantee group about statue’s use
 
Wednesday, Nov 19, 2008
 
By WILL JONES
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER

A statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis apparently won’t stand — or be stored — at the American Civil War Center, after all.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans are talking to two other sites about the life-size bronze statue after talks with the American Civil War Center at Tredegar Iron Works broke down, said Brag Bowling, a Richmond resident and board member of the Southern heritage group.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans had offered to donate the statue, and museum officials had said they would accept it. That decision, however, came with no guarantee of where or whether the statue might be displayed or how it might be interpreted.

Bowling said yesterday that’s not good enough.

"As a steward of SCV money, I’m not going to take that risk, where it might not be displayed or it might be made in a way that denigrates the intent of the statue," he said. "Theoretically, they could take the thing and melt it down. I think Richmond has missed an opportunity to open up the sesquicentennial of the Civil War."

Christy S. Coleman, museum president, said she considers the matter closed even though the Sons of Confederate Veterans left open the possibility of a temporary loan. She said she doubts that will happen because, under the museum’s collections policy, officials would still not guarantee how the statue might be used.

Coleman said she would have preferred for the group to have talked to museum officials about a potential gift before offering the statue. "If you’re really trying to help an organization, you’re looking at what the organization’s needs are."

The American Civil War Center opened in 2006 to tell the story of the Civil War and its causes, conduct and legacies from the Union, Confederate and African-American perspectives.

Bowling had hoped the piece would be displayed and interpreted, and used to educate the public about Davis and to attract visitors to the museum. After museum officials announced they would accept the statue, Coleman said it might be helpful in showing how the Civil War is remembered.

The statue, by Gary Casteel of Lexington, depicts the Confederate leader standing with his son Joe and with Jim Limber, a mixed-race orphan who was taken in by the Davis family. The statue will cost more than $100,000 and is scheduled to be complete this month.

Bowling said he isn’t interested in questioning the motives of museum officials or in participating in a fight like the one in 2003, when a statue of Abraham Lincoln was placed at Tredegar over protests of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Bowling said he’s now talking to two other sites about the statue, but he declined to name them. He said he had hoped to unveil the statue in Richmond on Feb. 22 — to mark the anniversary of Davis’ inaugural address at Capitol Square. Another option is to present it June 3 to commemorate Davis’ birthday.

"This is not some piece of junk. This is a really fine statue," Bowling said. "We’ll take it where we aren’t hamstrung by policies."

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