The Danville Controversy: Why?

I gather there’s a controversy over the flying of the Confederate flag in Danville, Virginia. which boasts that it’s the last Confederate capital (at least the last stationary one, as it remained mobile for a little while longer). Confederate president Jefferson Davis resided in the town’s Sutherlin Mansion between the fall of Richmond and Lee’s surrender, which he learned about on April 10.

At stake appears to be whether a 1994 city council resolution represents a binding contract that would guarantee that the flag in question flies forever. As you might imagine, many supporters of Confederate heritage think that the resolution is binding. The Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History, which manages the Sutherlin Mansion site as a museum, has consulted with blogger Kevin Levin about how to address the issue.

What happens in Danville should be up to the folks in Danville, but in this case I’m going to suggest that they seek a solution that allows the flag in question to remain in place. After all, it is the Third National flag (see above) we are talking about, not the Confederate Battle Flag or the Confederate Navy Jack with all the connotations associated with that flag. Thus it is a historically appropriate flag. If the folks in Danville think they don’t want to see that flag, well, that’s their business, but one can contemplate compromise solutions that allow the flag of the Confederate government to fly at one of its last locations.

Here’s a news story about the matter. And another one (although you’ll hear the usual SCV claim that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, and that people need to be properly educated about that).

Mind you, many people with whom I usually agree will be dismayed at what I’ve said, while my usual critics will express first astonishment and dismay before trying to discount my position. However, in this instance I think one can make a case for the specific flag in question to be displayed in context at a historical site.

16 thoughts on “The Danville Controversy: Why?

  1. jfepperson October 10, 2014 / 4:29 am

    I’m inclined to agree with you. I suspect some of the opposition comes from the presence of the CBF as part of the Third National. (Maybe they could replace the Third National with the Fourth—the white flag of surrender! 😉 )

  2. Talmadge Walker October 10, 2014 / 5:18 am

    Admit it, Brooks. You’re just supporting this because it reminds you the South lost!

  3. jclark82 October 10, 2014 / 6:18 am

    I see what you’re saying and I think it’s a good point. The Third National would be an absolutely appropriate flag to fly on the grounds considering it was the flag of the rebel government that was seated there for a brief time and that it was presented in context.

    As someone who is normally in agreement with you I’m not dismayed by what you’re saying as the people at the museum are going about this in a careful, thoughtful manner and as you said it isn’t the battle flag or naval jack and while the battle flag is in the canton on this flag, the Third National itself wasn’t used as a symbol of bigotry and massive resistance in later years. It doesn’t have that baggage. In my eyes it is the last flag of the Confederate government and if it is presented in that way and explains the historical context as to why it’s there then I wouldn’t think there would be a problem.

    In a strict historical and interpretive context this could be a good way to involve the community with the museum with the understanding of its past and it’s importance in regard of the closing days of the Civil War.

    If this flag can be presented as the Third National, with a way that explains why the flag is there then there is no problem in my opinion. The fact that they consulted someone like Mr. Levin is an indicator they are serious about getting this right.

    Jerry Sudduth Jr.

  4. Andrew Raker October 10, 2014 / 8:32 am

    It’s cute how the Southern Heritage crowd loves these resolutions and think that they’re unbreakable, but the Constitution, well, that can just be disregarded when one doesn’t get their way in an election.

    From the museum’s perspective, though, Brooks, I do think I’ll disagree with you on this issue. While the museum is in a historically significant building, from those ten days, the museum isn’t defined by that period. Having the flag out front sends a signal to some visitors that this is just a memorial to the Lost Cause, when it’s really a collection that covers more of the city’s history, with some art thrown in there, too. I haven’t been, but if I was going to be in the area, and had seen a picture while researching the museum with the flag out front, I might think twice about going (unless I’m in a good mood and see myself wanting to do some “opposition research”).

    Now, of course, it’s not the museum’s decision, it’s the city’s, and I can’t say how I’d vote if I were on the city council. But it looks like for now, they’re taking your course:

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 10, 2014 / 3:05 pm

      Much depends on how the museum wants to define itself. It seems to me that it wants to balance several priorities, including being the site of the last residence of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy. The people who run the museum should not worry about what outsiders say, because the outsiders really don’t matter in this case. They won’t visit Danville and whatever ruckus happens will be short term in nature, is in the case of the Museum of the Confederacy’s Appomattox branch (I assume that institution will be rebranded). After all, look at how the protests at WLU quickly fizzled. There will be a handful of people outnumbered by the flags they bring, and a photographer … and that’s all.

      I interpret last night’s events as giving a green light to the museum to do what it wants to do. I have a few options, and I’ll submit them to open consideration.

  5. John Foskett October 10, 2014 / 10:47 am

    I suppose that the problem is that it prominently incorporates the Battle Flag – same reason that people objected to the Georgia state flag (which was changed c. 2000) and why they object to Mississippi’s. I’m not saying I agree or disagree, but i can see the argument that this ain’t much different from the Battle Flag itself – to which people object because of its use after the Civil War and what it connotes to many even today. A weak “analogy” solely for argument’s sake – if Bavaria had a state flag which featured, but was not occupied solely by, a swastika on a red canton.

  6. E.A. Mayer October 10, 2014 / 11:29 am

    I know everybody hates the analogy, but would it be appropriate to fly a Nazi national flag in front of a military museum but not its battle flag, or visa versa? I see the CSA flags, battle or otherwise, as representing the same ideas. The CSA battle flags usage by groups after the war only added to the despicable nature of the ideas behind it, but aren’t all the CSA flags representative of the founding principles of the Confederacy, the Cornerstone on which they were built; racist hierarchy and slavery? I think that its place in the museum is in a display case inside as an exhibit of the past, not displayed on a pole flying in the present.

  7. Andy Hall October 10, 2014 / 2:25 pm

    The Flaggers should be careful what they ask for. The louder they carp about the 1994 resolution being ivioble, the more likely the city is to flat-out repeal it, at which point all bets are off. City governments, like people, don’t appreciate being told what they can and can’t do, especially by a bunch of outside agitators and an out-of-state former attorney for the Klan.

    They should have learned a lesson in Memphis when the city moved to rename Forrest Park. The heritage crowd got the state to try to remove that authority, and ended up prompting the city to rename THREE parks, not just the one.

    • Jimmy Dick October 10, 2014 / 2:46 pm

      I believe you are referring to the possible usage implied by the word “think” in the context of your warning, Andy.

      We both know that is not going to happen because they don’t think. In fact, I believe thinking is outlawed by most heritage groups.

  8. Randall Scott - The Texas Storyteller October 14, 2014 / 8:28 am

    Too many times, a handful of antagonists dominate a hot-button issue only to have their way in the end (usually at the consent and aid of media hounds.) Remove the media. How? The Danville, Virginia city council should request 30,000 word essays from all parties concerned – publish and distribute them in mass quantities to the public to choose their favorites. One year later, the best selected 12 (6 pro – 6 con essay authors) debate the issue in public, on the steps of the courthouse. Put the issue to a vote in the next public election. Worse case scenario: Even if I loose the vote and my Confederate flag is hidden from view, thousands learned true history, and I win a small victory in that regard.

  9. Charles Lovejoy October 15, 2014 / 5:09 pm

    I don’t have a problem if a flag of historical relevance is flown at a historic site. In Georgia there is a depot where the first Confederate flag in Georgia was said to have flown after the Montgomery AL secessions and a train carrying Davis and several newly elected passed through going to Richmond. A replica flag along with a historical market is at the depot site today. I see that is a good thing, people see it and it keeps an interest in the historical event and the Civil War period. If the third national has historical relevance to Danville and or the museum, I say fly it. I would like to see more historic flags of all kinds flown at historic sites. Spanish, French, British, Confederate ect. Far as Confederate flags, I think the version that is relevant to the event that took place at the site should be used. Flags can stir imaginations and generate interest.

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 21, 2014 / 10:14 pm

      Thanks, Pru. 🙂 Hope the ride back wasn’t too tough.

    • SouthsideCentral October 21, 2014 / 11:58 pm

      Thanks for the readership. I’ll have a BreakDown article on this meeting hopefully by tomorrow.

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 21, 2014 / 10:18 pm

      See, I told you the Flaggers visit the site. 🙂 Now they are pretending to be “Danville City Hall.”

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