In May of 2008, I became embroiled in a situation that had developed with the former Museum of the Confederacy. Having received an e-mail sent to the membership from Director S. Waite Rawls asking for an opinion about removing the word “Confederacy” from the Museum’s title, I assumed that he was taking heat from the ongoing crusade against all things Southern and advised him to hold his ground in the face of such politically correct extortion! Alas, my answer was not what the gentleman wished to hear—though he never responded to me. For Mr. Rawls was of the opinion that any mention of the Confederacy or Confederate was beyond the pale and the time had come to abandon such nomenclature. Today that great shrine has become the American Civil War Museum after being joined to the Tredegar Iron Works under the Parks Department.
Having been informed that a great deal of skullduggery was afoot in Richmond, I determined to see if I could make sense of what was happening. What followed was an article entitled “The Museum of the Confederacy – a Brief Look at a Worsening Situation” followed by an exchange of e-mails. The article began with an examination of the Museum’s origins:
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. [From the first appeal for donations to the Museum in January, 1892]
“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 Societywas 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]
“(W)e must pray that others will rise up to carry on the trust.” [Former Board President Sally Archer Anderson, 1926]
Every treasure donated to the MoC was with the understanding that that institution would honor its founding principles in perpetuity. No such revered relics would have been turned over to any “Yankee” institution!
I then documented how things had changed—and not for the better—and followed with more narrative regarding the ongoing crisis:
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, 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 white Confederates rather than in segregated commands under white officers as “zealots of the wrong”.
Nor is Rawls the first administrator who seems to think that “our story” is best told by what General Robert E. Lee called, “those people.” Indeed, Rawls was only the last of a rather long and sorry parade of like-minded “leaders.” One of his predecessors opened the Museum for lectures by such “experts” as Alan Nolan, author of the book, “Lee Considered.” Nolan, a lawyer from Wisconsin, is a notable champion of the Union’s “Iron Brigade” and no friend of Lee or the South. In 1999, Curator Malinda Collier was quoted 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 luminary to one of America’s foremost heroes.
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 rather, it is a politically correct character assassination consisting of the author’s perceptions of Lee 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 or another example of the deviation from the museum’s goals and policies according to its founding principles. Given what has happened since Director Rawls’ installation, one has to wonder just whose “story” this gentleman wanted told.
The attitude that Rawls was 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 had an interview with leftist notable Ed Sebesta on the subject of the Museum and its Lone Star Ball fundraising event together with Sebesta’s views on the historical Confederacy and modern organizations connected with it. Sebesta declared 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 the institution 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 has become a much more professional, research-oriented, professional exhibit-oriented facility . .” In other words, the “politically correct” Mr. McPherson approved of the MoC’s present “orientation.” Thus, the actions of Director Reed and Curator Collier, among others had won over McPherson and perhaps some of his leftist fellow travelers. But if in doing so, did their actions compensate for the abandonment of the original mission of the MoC and their betrayal of most of the present contributors to the Museum of whom one must doubt that either McPherson or Sebasta in fact, are?
As a further attempt to “revitalize” the institution, Rawls told a reporter that he was thinking of partnering the MoC with the slavery museum in Fredericksburg and the planned museum at Fort Monroe should the MoC be moved in whole or in part to those locations. As Fort Monroe was a haven for runaway slaves, any museum at that location would be principally devoted to that issue. Yet Rawls seemed unconcerned that such institutions tend to be extremely one-sided in their treatment of the very complex subject of slavery—as well as being rabidly anti-Confederate in their focus. But Rawls’ conciliatory efforts were not universally successful given the considerable number of negative responses from Lexington’s “black community” and its white supporters when they discovered that Lexington was being considered as a site for the Museum. One Al Hockaday—owner of two local stores—voiced his irrational concerns about the impact on Lexington as a whole. “I think the negative impacts would be more than the city could bear,” 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 their stupidity, Rawls assured Mr. Hockaday and others that the MoC was“. . . not a memorial or a shrine. It’s a museum and research center.“Sheryl Wagner, director of marketing for Rockbridge tourism, declared 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. If so, one has to wonder what sort of “future” Mr. Rawls envisioned for the institution if he found such sentiments both acceptable and positive.
Director Rawls also determined that the Museum of the Confederacy needed the “blessing” of the NAACP. The ongoing assault by that organization on all things traditionally Southern and/or Confederate is undeniable. In fact, its actions have prolonged its existence far beyond reason while garnering considerable profit from being “offended” by all things Southern and demanding that they be removed from sight, never again to see the light of day. But though no “official blessing” was forthcoming from these overly-sensitive souls when Rawls approached them at one meeting, 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 told “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, consider Mr. Rawls’ understanding of the patrons he wished to attract to the MoC! In a statement made to the Fort Monroe organization, Rawls complained that those criticizing the Museum had “misperceptions” and that its visitors were, in Rawls’ words “…NOT the redneck in the pickup truck with the T-shirt that you might think of” but, according to Rawls, “well-educated, retired, married couples who are history buffs.” These sentiments—clearly illustrative of Rawls’ elitism—require no comment; they speak for themselves and, frankly, as a “well-educated, retired history buff,” I take great offense at them.
Finally, according to the report on the Fort Monroe plan by Conover Hunt, the authority’s interim executive director, they would bring in experts in African-American history, Union history and Confederate history with said “experts” collaborating and offering a comprehensive plan for a museum campus. But the question then was, whose “experts”?Did anyone seriously believe that they would not be the same “experts” who have been defining the era’s history for decades? Consequently, did any intelligent person believe that the Confederacy would receive objective, fair and balanced treatment? The answer to that, I believe, was painfully obvious.
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 would certainly 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 quoted 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 just guess what that message was!]
“But (the article continues) 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.’”
I ended the expose with what I considered to be the only legitimate conclusion to the course matters were taking:
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 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.
Not too long after the article appeared, I once again attempted to discover something about the Museum that I might find heartening. Below are excerpts from e-mails from myself to the Museum’s Board and Mr. Rawls to which he responded with one of those liberal shibboleths that has destroyed the U.S. Constitution:
I just received your e-mail in which you mention that you are trying to raise $10,000 “to support the mission of the Museum.” However, I would like to know just what that mission is!
I have copies of the founding documents of the Museum and I know its original mission . . . However, from what I have seen recently, that “mission” may no longer be relevant. Indeed, some actions by the Director and others in the Board show a very troubling move towards the same “political correctness” that has poisoned the culture and almost destroyed our rights under the First Amendment. The United States is filled with politically correct “shrines” to what has passed for history since the end of the War of Secession. . . . that are about 20% fact and 80% myth and mendacity. I am deeply troubled that the Museum of the Confederacy is moving irrevocably and at great speed to join that throng. . .
I received the following in answer:
I have been watching a lot of the e-mail and blog traffic from you and others, and I am pleased that you contacted us directly, because it may give us the opportunity to clarify some of the misinformation that is out in “virtual space” . . .
Like the U.S. Constitution, or the Constitution of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, or that of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, documents like these do change over time to incorporate the changing times around us. Otherwise, there would be no freedom of religion, women would not have the right to vote, and there would be no “free speech” guarantee.
Dear Mr. Rawls,
Things change, that is true. But we’ve seen that those changes are not always for the better—indeed they are frequently for the worse. The belief that the Constitution is a “living document” has, quite frankly, led to the Constitution becoming more or less a “dead letter” (see the State of Oklahoma’s new resolution regarding the federal government and the 10th Amendment). The “freedoms of speech and religion” to which you allude were in the First Amendment of the Constitution at the beginning. They did not “evolve over time” and, frankly, are now in danger of being abrogated by the very types of “change” you seem to value. Political correctness, hate speech, hate crimes—all of these have “changed” the Constitution and—like so many other changes today—not for the better. It is only a fool, who, having found that he is on the wrong path, refuses to return to the right one.
As for your “Mission Statement”: I have no problem, with the certain terms and conditions, to wit: “display, study, commemoration, and preservation of the history and artifacts of the Confederate States of America.” I do, however, have a very real concern about the “interpretation” clause. Given the actions I’ve seen taken by the MoC till now, I am not at all sanguine that the “interpretation” of which you speak will be in keeping with the Museum’s founding principles. And while I agree that means and methods change over time—or we’d all be driving ox carts—interpretation has no need to change! The MoC can remain true to its founding principles while incorporating any necessary changes—unless, of course, there is a desire to depart from them. If that is the case, then that departure will certainly occur under the auspices of “interpretation” as presented in your Mission Statement.
There are museums which “exhibit” the relics and people of the past but pay no homage to either. So far as I know, that was not the founding principles of the MoC and any deviance from those founding principles is a betrayal of those persons who initiated and sustained the institution over time. Indeed, you are correct, these changes have happened over the years but like the changes to the Constitution, they represent what are, at times, principles and actions diametric to that which they purport to uphold. As that is in fact the case, such changes do not become valid simply because they have occurred. Were that so, then anything that happened—good or ill—would be acceptable and worthy of continuance simply because it happened.
I am relatively new to this field, I admit. I do not profess great expertise. But I know a “snow job” when I see it. The “history” presented today by most “orthodox” historians is about 20% fact and 80% propaganda. One would think that at this late date, efforts at objectivity would be in the works. Lincoln would be revealed for what he was and not the plaster saint years of Yankee propaganda has made of him. One would hope that the atrocities committed by men like Sherman and Sheridan would have been made public! But only a few historical “revisionists” (as they are called) are making what actually occurred known—and all of their work is rejected outright by the very men whom you consider worthy to help “guide” the MoC into the future. Well, if they do, it doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to know what that role will be. McPherson et al. plus the NAACP equals another Yankee monument to the “Civil War”—an erroneous term in and of itself. I don’t doubt that it will present secession as illegal (it wasn’t) and that the war was to free the slaves (also untrue).
Mr. Rawls, it isn’t the exhibits that make this “the Museum of the Confederacy,” but the ideals and the spirit which not only celebrate the attempt by eleven states in the South to escape the looming bondage of an all-powerful central government while finding nothing intrinsically wrong in that attempt. I cannot see the MoC under the present Administration—or many of the recent past Administrations as you yourself admit—having either those ideals or that spirit. I see only one more p.c. tribute to a mendacious myth perpetrated by people who know better but cannot abandon their well-cherished beliefs. Since there are more than enough Yankee shrines in the nation, I hope you will forgive me for not wishing to see the MoC join them and for doing anything and everything I can to work against that ultimate fate.
I received no reply.