Civil War: The Battle of Beauvoir
Three resign, two dismissed in spat over Confederate flag

March 15, 2014

BILOXI — While Civil War sites throughout the South are observing the anniversary of battles that occurred more than 150 years ago, a skirmish at Beauvoir has brought the resignation of the executive director and two board members and the dismissal of an administrative assistant and the state’s 2013 Volunteer of the Year.

Central to the split of the board is the Confederate battle flag and the ability to raise money for the historic property while the flag is so prominently displayed.

"I can feel the pain of Jefferson Davis right now," said Bertram Hayes-Davis, 65, Davis’ great-great-grandson. He resigned as executive director of Beauvoir after a contentious board meeting in February, but remains the president of the Beauvoir Foundation, a separate non-profit agency.

The most visible signs that there are issues at Beauvoir, which is owned by Mississippi Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, are two signs still up on the property advertising the Christmas event. Hayes-Davis said he was told the Beauvoir Foundation doesn’t have access to the property to take them down.

"It’s a philosophical issue and it’s a serious one," said Ed Funchess, vice chairman and treasurer, who along with board member Don Barrett, resigned and walked out of the February meeting followed by Hayes-Davis, who officially resigned March 3.

Funchess said his difference is with the chairman of the board, Richard Forte, and the conflict is primarily over the financial future of Beauvoir.

"I’ve had all of it I can stand," Funchess said,

Forte said he would talk to the Sun Herald, but then asked to be contacted by email. He didn’t respond to the email and calls to the new acting administrator weren’t returned.

"The flag is really not the whole issue but it is part of the issue," Funchess said.It’s what split the board, he said, and is a symbol that inflames public perception.

"Beauvoir is not the Confederate battle flag. It’s the last home of Jeff Davis," he said.

Funchess helped oversee the renovation of Beauvoir after Hurricane Katrina, when FEMA provided $4 million in federal funds to repair Beauvoir and $10 million to rebuild the library above the flood elevations. He still is working unofficially to see that a Confederate memorial pavilion is built at the cemetery.

He said to remove the namesake of the man Beauvoir honors is a mistake.

Spokesman for Beauvoir

Bertram Hayes-Davis and his wife, Carol, came to work at Beauvoir in July 2012. She volunteered as the head of programs and events at Beauvoir. He left his job as the head of oil and gas assets management at JP Morgan Bank in Dallas after he got a call from a board member asking for his assistance.

He oversaw the opening of the library and the completion of Varina’s Garden, which recreates the garden of Davis’ wife, and with his resemblance to his grandfather and extensive knowledge of the family history, became the spokesman for Beauvoir.

Hayes-Davis said he said he got support to create interactive displays at the Davis library from the Smithsonian, the Senate Archives, the Department of Archives and the Capitol Architect, and began creating a partnership with the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior.

"With all these efforts, and the highest regard to the future and successes of Beauvoir, there has been from the first day an air of resistance from the board and the chairman," he said.

He now is no longer on the board of directors he served on for years and all mention of Davis’ direct descendent is removed from the Beauvoir website.

Hayes-Davis said he feels fundraising events such as Christmas at Beauvoir are "the kind of things that will save Beauvoir." The board didn’t share his goals, he said.

Christmas at Beauvoir

Instead, Andi Oustalet, a volunteer who created and produced the Festival of Trees and Christmas at Beauvoir for the last two years, was informed by the board she was no longer welcome at Beauvoir.

For her efforts at Beauvoir, she was named Mississippi’s Volunteer of the Year. At Beauvoir, "The chairman of the board has done nothing but oppose it," she said of the event.

The purpose of the holiday festival was to raise money for Beauvoir and bring tourists to South Mississippi at the slow time of the year, she said. The event drew about 13,000 visitors each year and many companies signed on as sponsors.

Last year, she also organized a three-day celebration for the opening of the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library. She quit when she arrived for the ribbon-cutting and saw a Confederate battle flag hanging on the Beauvoir mansion, so large that it covered from the edge of the roof to below the porch. Outstalet said she asked Forte to remove the flag that could be seen from U.S. 90.

"This attitude has got to go so that property can survive and be a part of our history," she said.

She later agreed to return and produce the second year of her three-year commitment to Christmas at Beauvoir. Unless the board reverses its decision, she won’t be there for the third year.

Michelle Rodriguez, executive administrative assistant at Beauvoir, helped Oustalet with the events and also organized the cemetery tour. She said she was fired about three weeks ago after sending a letter to a board member about working conditions.

Hayes-Davis said he thought the opening of the library was going to change things for Beauvoir, which hasn’t regained its visitor count since it was devastated in Hurricane Katrina.

Beauvoir’s latest 990 report to the Internal Revenue Service shows the annual revenue from admissions is $275,000 and revenue from the gift shop is $97,000. The State Legislature provides about $100,000 a year for Beauvoir through the Department of Archives and History and Beauvoir received a $1 million grant in the third round of the Historic Relief Grant Program for Historic Preservation.

Varina Howell Davis, Jefferson Davis’ wife, put in her will that if the Mississippi Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans can’t maintain Beauvoir, it will be transferred to the state to operate.

On The Web: