Sunday, December 07, 2003

Yeah, I was dismayed when I heard Howard Dean's statement about guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks -- but I also recall being a bit skeptical when a pundits and others self-righteously declared that Dean's image of the South was utterly at odds with reality. Over the weekend I read this Nation article by Paul Wachter, a reporter for a major South Carolina newspaper; the article concerns, among other things, a project to build a museum for the Hunley, a Confederate submarine. If Dean's view of the South is so off base, what's going on here?

Republican State Senator Glenn McConnell, ... the champion of the Hunley Museum and South Carolina's most powerful state senator, runs a Confederate memorabilia store just a few exits down Interstate 26 from the Hunley. On a recent day he wore a tie decorated with the state flag--in Confederate red, not blue--and a wristwatch with a Confederate flag insignia. His cell phone, in a Confederate flag-emblazoned plastic sheath, is programmed to play "Dixie." McConnell's store is stocked with hundreds of such items as well as portraits of Civil War generals and rolls of toilet paper bearing Sherman's image.

McConnell, 55, ... now heads the nine-member state commission that oversees the Hunley project. The all-white Hunley Commission also includes five other Republican state legislators and Chris Sullivan, editor of
Southern Partisan, a Confederate apologist magazine based in Columbia.

In its current location, the Hunley shares space with a concession area offering such items as Confederate T-shirts and bolls of cotton. The conservation center was packed during my two visits, but I never saw an African-American. If McConnell, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, gets his way, the Hunley museum will offer no apologies for slavery. "Racism existed in all quadrants of the United States during the War Between the States, and it's only the practice of modern politics to heap the blame for racism on the South," he said....

McConnell is counting on public funding for his estimated $40 million museum, which should be completed in a few years; taxpayers have already spent $8 million to raise and preserve the submarine. (The state has also committed to spending another $3.5 million to purchase a Civil War painting and artifact collection to be displayed alongside it.)

Wachter also discusses a proposed museum of African-American history, to be built in the city of Charleston. It's being built primarily with private money, unlike the Hunley museum. And the chairman of the museum's steering committee is a U.S. congressman, James Clyburn; Wachter points out that Clyburn is "the first and only African-American to represent South Carolina in Congress since Reconstruction." Amazing.

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