COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s military museum covers 250 years of artifacts and stories of brave soldiers fighting for their country, from men with muskets facing the British before the U.S. was even a country to troops who fought the war or terror in Afghanistan.
But the museum’s official name — the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum — is stuck in the four years that South Carolinians didn’t fight for the U.S.
And when anything involving the Confederacy comes up, it drags on fund raising and even admissions at the museum, Executive Director Allen Roberson said.
When recently working on renewing its national accreditation, the American Alliance of Museums Accreditation said the museum could make it easier on itself by eliminating “Confederate” from its name.
Roberson has his own reason for suggesting the change. “The name right now is too long. And what do you think about when you hear relic? I prefer artifacts,” said Roberson, who said a relic would be a small bottle of sand from a desert battle while an artifact would be the pen a president used to sign a declaration of war.
Right now, the suggestion to drop “Confederate Relic Room” is just a part of the long term strategic plan for the museum Roberson is writing, based on suggestions from the accreditation group. It was also discussed at a recent meeting of the museum’s board.
But any change in the name will have to come from lawmakers and that would be an uphill fight. A law passed in 2000 when the state moved the Confederate flag from atop the Statehouse dome to a pole by a monument on the capitol lawn requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to alter any historic names or monuments.
Once the Confederate flag came down permanently in 2015 — with Roberson delegated to put on white gloves and take the final flag to his museum as part of the quickly put together ceremony — House Speaker Jay Lucas issued a statement saying the House wouldn’t take up any other discussion over Confederate monuments and names while he is speaker.
The Daughters of the Confederacy helped raise the money to open the museum in what was then one of the poorest states in the county in 1896.
When Roberson made his 15-minute budget presentation Tuesday to a handful of South Carolina House members, he mentioned the Civil War just once, answering a question from a representative about a project to conserve its existing collection of uniforms.
Instead, Roberson spent most of his time talking about a full bottle of whisky the museum obtained from the final survivor of a group of three friends in World War I and a huge Vietnam War exhibition planned to open Labor Day,
Roberson told lawmakers Tuesday that attendance at the museum was finally back on the rise. It dropped 5,000 people — about 20% — in the year after the museum handled that final Confederate flag with a vague, unfunded mandate to display it properly. The first proposal was a $4 million multimedia display that included massive renovations. It was roundly criticized.
After years of asking for money and wrangling, the flag was quietly put in a $1,400 viewing case hanging between two offices amid a display of other historical South Carolina flags in November 2018.
Roberson never wanted the flag. He thought it was a political item that didn’t need to be in a military museum beside flags that went into battle, including one from an unit of African American soldiers from South Carolina who fought for the Union in the Civil War.
“” lot of these flags have gunpowder, blood, bullet holes — they were what 18- and 19-year-old boys died fighting under,” Roberson said in June 2017. “This is not the same thing.”
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