News & Politics

Georgia Civil War Museum Shuts Down Rather Than Surrender Its Confederate Flags

Museum curators blame political correctness run amok.

Photo Credit: steve estvanik / Shutterstock

Rather than comply with a request to remove Confederate flags from public property, a Civil War museum in Georgia is shutting down.

In a Facebook message, board members of the Nash Farm Battlefield and Museum lamented that the venue will shutter on June 1. Museum officials claim the closure was forced by local Commissioner Dee Clemmons’ request that “All Confederate flags be removed from the museum.” The authors take pains to imply that political correctness gone wild is to blame, stating the commissioner’s request was made “in an effort not to offend anyone.”

Commissioner Clemmons, however, contradicted that version of events. Melissa Robinson, a county spokesperson, told WXIA that the request was submitted because “the commissioner had received some complaints and concerns from constituents." In response, Clemmons reportedly sent an email to the museum in March requesting that a Confederate flag which flew on public, county-owned land in front of the building—next to the Georgia state flag and American flag—be taken down. The email read:

Dear Colleagues, there has been an overwhelming request from my constituents to remove the Confederate Flag at the County owned Nash Farm Park. I was surprised that we have this flag in our county inventory flying high for almost 8 years. When I investigated further with Tim Coley I was relieved that the flag did not belong to Henry County and that the owner would graciously place it in their personal dwelling. If any of you would like the flag placed back up speak now. If you get concerns from citizens refer them to me. After thorough research I can testify that this flag has no historical reason for being displayed on County property as it has no relevance to the undocumented battlefield. Secondly I would not want our County open to possible lawsuits for hate crimes or discrimination. Patrick advise if we need a vote since the owner has already removed their flag.

Speaking to a local Fox affiliate, Clemmons stated, "I had asked that the [Confederate] flag be taken down and placed inside of the museum. I'm working really hard to create a community that does not harbor divisiveness.”

Museum curator Bill Dodd says Clemmons later requested that a Confederate flag displayed in the museum’s window also be taken down, and that the museum gift shop stop selling Confederate flags. The Fox article notes that aside from displays of the Confederate flag, Clemmons “said she has no problems with Confederate memorabilia inside the museum.”

"The Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. What do they have on display? They have swastikas on display in the Holocaust Museum,” Dodd said to the outlet.

Let’s be clear: while that may be true, the Holocaust Memorial Museum does not fly the swastika in front of its doors, next to the U.S. flag, and its gift shop definitely does not sell mini-swastikas to visitors.

After comparing the Confederate flag to a swastika—an unwittingly accurate observation—Dodd went on to state, “For some people, it's a polarizing issue. For some, the flag means one thing, for others, it means something else.”

Museum volunteers suggested that Clemmons' request was tantamount to asking them to leave their space.

“For anyone who studies the American Civil War, or War Between the States, they realize there were two parties that fought in this war,” board members wrote in their Facebook post. “We have always prided ourselves with being an unbiased museum that told the entire story of the battles that took place on this property, as well as being a voice of the people in Henry County and Georgia during this time...To exclude any Confederate flag would mean the historical value has been taken from our exhibits, and a fair interpretation could not be presented to each guest.”

Aside from the fact that an “unbiased” view of slavery is morally questionable, the adherence to historical accuracy seems overstated. The museum purports to carry other “artifacts” and states that it is dedicated to the “history of the Nash farm and family.” I called the museum to find out if there were any slavery focused items, since the Nash family had been slave owners, which means enslaved people are a key part of its history. Curator Dodd told me there was a document from the 1840s that listed things like acreage and the number of slaves sold, but didn’t cite anything else.

Numerous Facebook commenters left messages protesting the closure of the museum and the removal of the Confederate flags because, they say, it erases history leaving us “doomed to repeat it.” Strangely, none of the commenters suggested the erasure of enslaved people at the site does a disservice to history. Which is odd, because what better way to recognize slavery (the cause of the Civil War; look it up) as an historic evil never to be “repeated” than to depict it as such?

The county also contests the museum board’s version of the story, suggesting operators closed the doors of their own volition.

“Henry County in no way asked them to remove their things,” Robinson told WSB-TV. “We did not request that. It was a voluntary move to leave the museum.”

Dee Clemmons, who is African-American, has reportedly received a deluge of hate mail, including death threats, from people upset about the museum closing. She reiterated her stance in a Facebook post:

“I will not apologize for asking that the CONFEDERATE FLAG be removed FROM A COUNTY OWNED PARK and given back to the private owner as it was not a flag owned by Henry County. This has caused me to receive hundreds of nasty emails and Facebook posts. Over the years, the Confederate battle flag has come to mean different things to different people. To me and many other United States Citizens it is emblematic of slavery, racism and the bloody battles that made the Civil War the deadliest conflict in U.S. history. WE CANNOT ERASE HISTORY BUT WE DON’T HAVE TO RE-Live it.”

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

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