As surely you already know, in the wake of the murder of nine worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a petition was circulated demanding the removal of a Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina state house. It quickly generated a massive number of signatures and a national ground swell of pressure arose for the state government to do precisely that. This story is already well-covered on Kevin Levin's Civil War Memory blog, so I won't rehearse the details any further.
Just for the record, I fully support the removal. The battle flag represents an army that fought for the preservation of slavery and has a long, notorious association with white racism. Yet it flies on the capitol grounds of a state whose population is 30 percent African American, most of them descendants of slaves. But this post isn't about that. It's about recent decisions to eliminate sales of the Confederate flag or to forbid its presence in certain sites. Those sites do not include National Park Service battlefields. But the park service has adopted a policy of ending sales of souvenirs in which the Confederate flag is depicted on "standalone" merchandise; that is to say, merchandise devoid of historical context. Gettysburg National Military Park has reportedly urged private businesses in Gettysburg to do the same. Tragically, this would result in the elimination of merchandise such as this:
I'm still learning about this issue, so consider this post a work in progress. It first got on my radar thanks to a Facebook status update by a friend of mine. Since his privacy settings are limited to friends, I'll quote the update without attribution:
So according to the NPS page, the only Confederate flags allowed are with permitted and approved living history events. You or I couldn't have one, you can't have one on your vehicle (I assume that means stickers too). The Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg has banned them on the outside grounds completely.He doesn't supply a link to the relevant NPS page, but presumably he refers to the following press release, dated June 25:
For Immediate Release: National Parks Pull Confederate Flag Sales ItemsWASHINGTON – Confederate Battle Flag sales items are being removed from national park bookstores and gift shops.
“We strive to tell the complete story of America,” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said of the agency’s reputation for telling difficult parts of our history. “All sales items in parks are evaluated based on educational value and their connection to the park. Any stand-alone depictions of Confederate flags have no place in park stores.”
Jarvis said the murders of nine church members at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which is near Fort Sumter National Monument, galvanized a national discussion that includes symbols and relics from our nation’s past such as the Confederate Battle Flag.
“As that discussion spread across the country,” Jarvis said, “one of our largest cooperating associations, Eastern National, began to voluntarily remove from the park stores that it manages any items that depict a Confederate flag as its primary feature. I’ve asked other cooperating associations, partners and concession providers to withdraw from sale items that solely depict a Confederate flag.”
In the telling of the historical story, Confederate flags have a place in books, exhibits, reenactments, and interpretive programs. Books, DVDs, and other educational and interpretive media where the Confederate flag image is depicted in its historical context may remain as sales items as long as the image cannot be physically detached. Confederate flags include the Stainless Banner, the Third National Confederate Flag, and the Confederate Battle Flag.
Jarvis said, “All superintendents and program managers will personally evaluate which sales items fit this description, have educational value, and are appropriate for the site.”
There's also this "Statement Regarding the Confederate Flag," issued by Gettysburg National Military Park:
On June 24, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis asked park superintendents to work with their partners and bookstore operators to voluntarily withdraw from sale items that solely depict a Confederate flag. The National Park Service press release can be found here. "We strive to tell the complete story of America," National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said of the agency's reputation for telling difficult parts of our history. "All sales items in parks are evaluated based on educational value and their connection to the park. Any stand-alone depictions of Confederate flags have no place in park stores." Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Ed Clark asked the Gettysburg Foundation to consider this request. This morning, the Gettysburg Foundation President Joanne Hanley requested the bookstore operator, Event Network, to comply with the request. Hanley said, "We are committed to our partnership with the National Park Service at Gettysburg for the preservation of resources and for outstanding educational programs." Effective today, the book store at Gettysburg National Military Park's Museum &Visitor Center will no longer sell stand-alone items that solely feature the Confederate flag, including display and wearable items. This affects 11 out of 2,600 items carried in the book store. The book store continues to sells a wide variety of items that feature both the U.S. and Confederate flags, as well books, DVDs, and other educational and interpretive media where the image of the Confederate flag is depicted in its historical context.Nota Bene: Neither release forbids that Confederate flag you have on your car bumper or even the one on the roof of your orange 1969 Dodge Charger, so I'm not sure where my friend gets the warrant for his assertion that "You or I couldn't have one, you can't have one on your vehicle (I assume that means stickers too)." However, he's correct that Gettysburg's Seminary Ridge Museum does forbid the presence of the Confederate flag on its grounds, including those of re-enactors. This has resulted in the creation of a Facebook page, "Boycott the Seminary Ridge Museum in Gettysburg.."
As of this writing (the ungodly hour of 3:34 a.m. on Sunday, June 28), the page has 243 "likes," including three of my FB friends--though oddly enough, not the friend I quote above. Maybe he just doesn't know about it yet. The museum is on the grounds of the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg, which created the policy--a fact of which the FB page creators were possibly ignorant (although my friend Eric Wittenberg has since clued them in). Here's the policy statement. See if you can spot the oddity within it, given all I've laid out for you above. Hint: It's the passage I bold-faced and italicized:
Until recently, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg has permitted the display of confederate flags in historical context, even the more controversial versions of the flag when used in historic and educational contexts. But Seminary officials have agreed that given the brutal murders of nine people in a Charleston, SC church and the identification of certain flags with supremacist movements in America make it impossible to maintain the historic context for the display of symbolism associated with those movements. The policy affirms the exhibit of the Seminary Ridge Museum and notes that the exhibit is the one space where the historical context is clear and appropriately used. (emphasis supplied) Seminary officials continue to appreciate the educational value of living history groups on campus after opening its campus for the first time to the activity in 2011. “It is good for the visitors and students of history” to open the campus for these purposes free and open to the public. But repeated events held in or near Gettysburg by groups sponsoring or threatening to use hate speech have utilized some of the symbols of the Confederate States to communicate racism and employ hate speech. More recently the brutal murders in Charleston, SC, at Emanuel AME Church, “make it impossible to maintain the necessary clear and unambiguous educational context on Seminary Ridge” said John Spangler, speaking for the Seminary. “We are forced by more recent history and current events to declare a total ban on display of confederate symbols and flags used by supremacist organizations, and that unfortunately includes the Confederate Navy Jack and the St. Andrew cross in two of the official flags of the Confederacy.” Seminary officials also note that there are numerous flags used by reenactors of the Confederate States of America which do not employ the graphic symbols in question. The policy change is as follows: As of June 18, 2015, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg prohibits the display (all or in part) of the flag or flags associated with the Confederate States of America containing graphic symbols utilized after the Civil War to communicate hatred and racism and resistance to civil rights legislation, including what is known as the “Confederate Battle flag, the Confederate Navy Jack, and officially designated flags of the Confederate States of America utilizing the St. Andrew cross. The only exception to this is the historical display included in exhibits of the Seminary Ridge Museum, where it is clearly interpreted in historical context. Recent events have brought to the fore extra sensitivity and sorrow on the Gettysburg campus. Two of the victims killed in Emanuel AME Church, including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney were graduates of Gettysburg Seminary’s sister school in Columbia, SC, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. And the alleged shooter, Daryl Roof, is also a member of a South Carolina Lutheran congregation. The Seminary remains the frequently used place for counter rallies to supremacist meetings in the area, and is committed to honoring the legacy of its most famous graduate, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Alexander Payne, a 19th Century leader in the AME tradition, forced as a young man from Charleston, SC to study theology at Gettysburg. “The problem with the symbolism in question is not about its historical use in the context of interpreting the Civil War, Spangler continued, “it is rather the subsequent used in resisting civil rights and overt and violent racism by individuals and groups that continue to this day. We simply can’t ignore this deeply disturbing and historical usage.”I'll update this story as I learn more. Based on what I've gleaned so far, however, the news is most disconcerting. I don't know about you, but I'm going to be jonesing for my Confederate battle flag-themed souvenir crap, which I can no longer get at National Park Service stores. As for the seminary, I find its policy a breath-taking infringement of my First Amendment rights. How dare a private institution sharply restrict the use of an offensive symbol on its privately-owned grounds?