The Civil War: Controversy swirls around museum's Confederate flag

Once again the Confederate flag erupted into controversy when a poster of Ru Paul wearing a Confederate flag dress stood at the entrance to the new museum at Appomattox. Photo: McClean House, Appomattox, where Gen. Lee surrendered

VIENNA, Va.,  March 29, 2012  — While the Confederate battle flag has long been known to cause controversy, the manner in which it was briefly displayed at the new Museum of the Confederacy satellite museum in Appomattox, Va. may take the cake for bizarre and ill-considered appearances. 

Coming a few days prior to the museum’s grand opening on Saturday, March 31, it is a sad reminder of the impropriety to which this once highly respected flag has fallen victim over the years.

A large display near the entrance to the Museum located at 159 Horseshoe Road, at the junction of U.S. 460 and State Road 24, outside Appomattox, showed a life-size representation of well known drag queen/transvestite Ru Paul Andre Charles, better known as Ru Paul, clad in a highly revealing low cut evening gown made of two battle flag-patterned pieces of cloth, caught at the waist where the flag bars cross, and over a tissue thin red undergarment.

Ru Paul in Confederate drag

The accompanying board next to the display read “The Outbreak of War: Pattern Proliferation” and went on to explain how the battle flag had been used, abused, and misused from a variety of groups down to and including this image of Ru Paul wearing it in all of his or her glory.  It was a seemingly ridiculous and tacky choice to use in this sort of display, even when it is urging the exact opposite.

Tasteless Display Is Short-lived

The museum’s receptionist told me that it had been on display briefly, but no longer was, and suggested we speak with Waite Rawls, President and CEO of the Museum of the Confederacy.

When reached, Mr. Rawls acknowledged that the Ru Paul likeness was up “for about six hours, and then taken down for good.” He said it was someone’s idea for an eye-catching example of the way a flag can be improperly used, but early “soft opening” visitors wasted no time in making their strong objections known, and the display was removed. He laughingly said it might be used for lining chicken coops in the future.

Fortunately it was no longer in evidence on Wednesday when some sixty students, parents and teachers from the Appomattox County School system became some of the first invited guests to enjoy the new facility.

The Appomattox museum branch, which will feature a rotating supply of artifacts emanating from the Museum on Clay Street in Richmond, Va. is best known as the site of General Robert E. Lee’s formal surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at the home of former Manassas resident, Wilmer McLean. Key artifacts present at the opening are the Ceremonial Sword of Lee as well as the uniform he wore on that day, among many others historical articles.

Controversy has surrounded the opening of the Museum, concerning the “Reunification Promenade” outside the building, which will display the flags of all of the seceding Southern states who later were part of the reunited nation.    

Rawls explained that the outside displays present a sort of time line, detailing what led up to Appomattox, the way the states (represented by their flags) seceded, and then how they re-entered the Union, one by one, creating “one nation reunified.”

No Confederate Flags flying

However, there will be no Confederate flags present outside, not the First, Second, or Third National Flags, all of which were approved by the Confederate States of America nor the well known Battle Flag. Representatives of various history and heritage groups have criticized this total omission. Mr. Rawls explained that, “To put a Confederate national flag in there would be a historical mistruth,” Rawls said. “We’re historically correct, we’re not politically correct.”

Grand Opening of Museum

Inside the museum, a total of 20 different Confederate flags will be displayed, the largest such collection in the country. “They will not be on poles, but in display cases,” he added.

Apparently he has been unable or unwilling to explain the decision further, despite the fact that many of the displayed state flags will no doubt bear a resemblance to their design or style in 1861. It is hoped that some compromise will be ultimately reached, since the omission of a flag of the Confederacy flying at its site makes no sense in a Museum dedicated to that entity.

Mixed History of the Battle Flag

Groups have argued the significance and meaning of the battle flag for dozens of years. Following the War and Reconstruction it was unfortunately used by the Ku Klux Klan in their misguided terrorist threats of that era, and has also become a signal emblem of motorcycle groups and the like. Many remember the TV show “Dukes of Hazard,” and its hot rod car, the “General Lee” which featured a large battle flag emblazoned on the top. Incidentally the four-wheeled “General” will also be at the Museum.

In later years, the flag can unfortunately be found improperly used and displayed by a variety of groups, on everything from bikini swim suits to neck scarves for dogs. The misuse of a flag is clearly covered in the U. S. Flag Code, and its use as any form of clothing is specifically banned, though there no penalties for such uses.

Grand Opening Program

Rawls gave a preview of the grand opening ceremonies to take place Saturday, beginning with a processional down the hill of the Appomattox High School band playing “Dixie’s Land.”

A Ulysses S. Grant re-enactor will follow on horseback, with a Color Guard of the 23rd U.S. Colored Troops. Then comes a Robert E. Lee re-enactor on a horse so like Traveller that people will believe the great warhorse has been reincarnated. The Color Guard for Lee will be four re-enactor groups, the 11th, 15th, 19th and 47th Regiments; these four Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans groups have raised a total of $75,000.00 for the restoration of several very old flags.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. James I. “Bud” Robertson, Jr., alumni distinguished professor of history, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The education center at the museum has been named for Robertson, whose books on Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and Gen. Robert E. Lee are highly regarded.

Then the 14 state flags will be raised in the order they seceded, the eleven original Confederate states, plus Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland, so-called Border States that also furnished troops to the Confederacy.

The United States Flag will then be raised, followed by the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and the outside ceremony will conclude with the doors opened for all to visit the museum.

Follow the column on Face Book or LinkedIn at Martha Boltz, and by email it’s Read more of Martha’s columns on The Civil War at the Communities at the Washington Times.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

More from The Civil War
blog comments powered by Disqus
Martha M. Boltz

Martha Boltz is a frequent contributor  to the long running Civil War features in The Washington Times America At War feature in the print and online editions. She has been a regular contributor to the original Civil War Page and its successor page since 1994, and is a civil war buff, historian, and writer. "Someone said that if we don't learn about the past, we are condemned to repeat it," she said, "and there are lessons of all sorts inherent in this bloody four-year period of our country's history."  She is a member of several heritage and lineage groups, as well as the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table. Her standing invitation is, "come on down - check the blog - send me your comments and let's have fun with its history and maybe learn something at the same time."


Contact Martha M. Boltz


Please enable pop-ups to use this feature, don't worry you can always turn them off later.

Question of the Day
Photo Galleries
Popular Threads
Powered by Disqus