10 November 2012

American Civil War Center President's Disappointing Remarks

A C-Span clip that made it on a couple of blogs features American Civil War Center President Christy Coleman responding to a question from someone in a recent seminar audience. The question was: "Should we still associate racism with Confederate culture?" Of course, the question itself assumes a certain premise which is a bit more complicated than it was framed, but that's for another day. I watched the clip several times to make sure I wasn't missing something or misreading Ms. Coleman's response. I don't think I am. Watch it here and judge for yourself. Feel free to correct me if you think I'm wrong.

Ms. Coleman's response seemed a bit strange to me, as if she had been channeling persons who had experienced living in the South during the Civil War, when the question actually pertained to a modern context and mindset. She seemed to travel back and forth through time in her response, interpreting - in her own way - both 1860's Confederates and those today who, in her words, embrace a "Confederate mindset." What is that supposed to mean? Again, as someone who is the direct descendant of three Confederate soldiers, her remarks struck me as a bit strange and condescending. 

But then she revealed her true perspectives and how she views some of the potential constituents and patrons of the institution she heads. She referred to honoring one's Confederate heritage as "foolishness." Of course, that earned a cute little chuckle from the rest of the academics on the panel - yes, let's all have a guffaw at "Billy-Bob." Very classy.

Then, after belittling that particular demographic, she attempts to play the peace-maker and says she's willing to "acknowledge that" as long as that group doesn't dismiss the role and function of "our folks."

Personally, I've never dismissed the role of African-Americans in building our great Nation and have been critical of those who do, yet I also embrace and honor my Confederate heritage:

Yet some voices defending Southern heritage are just as shrill and dishonoring to the worthy heritage of black Americans, each side shouting so loudly that they cannot hear the other. Both sides would be well advised to remember the apostle Paul’s admonition to “speak the truth in love.” More desirous of being right than being righteous, some defenders of Southern culture and heritage have done more harm than good to their cause. (Stonewall Jackson - The Black Man's Friend, page 21.)

Moreover, I've initiated, helped to fund, and co-authored the text for two Virginia historical highway markers. Both of those markers pertained to what I viewed as an overlooked aspect of African-American heritage and history here in Virginia. (See here and here.) The marker for the Lexington African-American cemetery was funded primarily (95%) by SCV members. I also served as a conduit to see that the Reverend John Jasper received a prominent display at the National Civil War Chaplains Museum in Lynchburg, as Jasper preached to wounded Confederates at Chimborazo during the War Between the States.

I honestly do not understand how Ms. Coleman thinks she's going to find some middle ground and agreement by first insulting the group she's ostensibly reaching out to and attempting to "explain." Certainly putting Confederate heritage under a microscope, poking it like a lab rat, and referring to those who identify with that heritage as "Billy-Bob" doesn't engender dialogue and trust. 

Ms. Coleman seemed, for a brief moment or two, to actually have been on the verge of a reasonable response and perspective but, again, her true feelings came out and were quite disappointing - particularly when you consider she heads a museum which receives my Federal tax dollars and, I assume, would appreciate my patronage.

Instead, she unnecessarily took the opportunity to intentionally insult a rather broad demographic and Civil War constituency. Again, that is quite disappointing. And you wonder why I don't attend these Confederate bash-fests? As I've pointed out before, the greatest intellectual challenge at most academic Civil War seminars is staying awake.


BorderRuffian said...

And the Museum of the Confederacy - established as a memorial to the Confederacy - is going to merge with this bunch?

What are they thinking?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

It's all about money. Original intent be damned.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

From the MOC's website:

The new Museum’s first appeal for donations went out on January 1892. The language reveals the sentimental and commemorative ideas with which the Museum was founded:

"The clothes, the arms, the money, the belongings of the Confederate soldier, and the women whose loyal enthusiasm kept him in the field, are properly objects of historical interest. 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. We appeal to our sisters throughout the South to help us secure these invaluable mementoes before it’s too late."

The confidence that Southerners would donate artifacts to the Museum proved to be well founded. At first, the items trickled in, but soon began to pour in, although it was four years before the Museum was ready to preserve and display them. The women of the Society built the Museum's collections almost solely on donations that have continued in a steady stream to this day, purchasing only a few items including artwork and furniture. Determined to create a museum that would outlive them, Isabel Maury, Belle Bryan and other Museum founders implemented policies to ensure both the institution’s and the burgeoning collection’s survival. In 1898, at the suggestion of Belle Bryan, the Museum began an endowment fund, which turned into the general fund in the 1930s.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I just received a personal email from an official with the MOC stating the following:

"The Confederate Memorial Literary Society has been the owner of the collection since its establishment in 1890, and it will continue into the future to be the legal owner of the collection. As you know, the care, preservation, and conservation of the collection is our #1 responsibility."

I hope that is the case, though as I told this person, Coleman's remarks don't do much for their public objective of presenting all sides and perspectives.

Anonymous said...

She makes it very clear when she said she is willing to accept this foolishness.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"She makes it very clear when she said she is willing to accept this foolishness."

That's a loser any way you look at it. She is still insulting those who wish to honor their Confederate ancestors. Besides, why would anyone "accept" something they believed truly foolish.

hedonist said...

how sad, the MOC gone, absorbed by the PC morass

Anonymous said...

I for one am tired of my ancestors being spat upon

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Many of the spitters are just envious of their character.