Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Leaders of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, which is trying to find a new home, are considering changing the name of the landmark, a move that has sparked the ire of Southern heritage buffs.

The consideration comes after a group of historians, preservationists and grant writers, studying the museum’s health last year, suggested the name change because the word “Confederacy” carried “enormous, intransigent and negative intellectual baggage with many.”

Carlton P. Moffatt Jr., chairman of the Confederate Memorial Literary Society board of trustees, which governs the museum, said that leaders are “always looking for the best way to market the product.” One possibility is to rename it the Civil War Museum.

“Renaming the collection or the museum itself is always something that we will always give consideration,” Mr. Moffatt said.

S. Waite Rawls III, the museum’s president and chief executive officer, said yesterday the board will weigh carefully any decision regarding a name change.

“No decision on whether or not to change the name has been made at this time, and possible new names for the museum have not been chosen,” Mr. Rawls wrote in a letter released yesterday. “Any decision that is made will be in concert with and dependent on the new location.”

But even the possibility of a name change has Southern heritage buffs angry.

Brag Bowling, former past commander with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, called the potential renaming an “abomination” and a “failure of leadership from the top down at the museum.”

“To change the name of that museum is ridiculous,” Mr. Bowling said. “The whole message of the museum will be diluted by political correctness.”

Ronald Toney, a museum member, said the trustees should not buckle to political correctness.

“It is a sad state of affairs when any museum has to change its name for any municipality to receive it in the name of appeasing certain segment of the population,” he said.

Mr. Rawls said the museum needs a new location.

Its current location, next to the White House of the Confederacy, is hemmed in by the sprawling Virginia Commonwealth University medical complex. Annual visitation has dropped from 92,000 to about 51,500 since the early 1990s. As a result, the museum has struggled financially.

Museum officials have discussed moving their collection of Civil War artifacts — the world’s largest — about 140 miles west to Lexington, Va.

The renaming issue came up last week when the Lexington City Council discussed the museum’s possible relocation to the former Rockbridge County Courthouse complex in the city’s center.

Mimi Elrod, a City Council member who is wary of the move, said Mr. Rawls was willing to rename the museum if that would help appease people concerned about the negative perception of the word Confederacy.

The study last year suggested that for much of the public, “the Confederacy, and by association the MOC, now symbolize racism.”

“I can’t speak on behalf of the whole community, but I think for a lot of people they want to make sure it represents a balanced view of the Civil War,” Miss Elrod said.

Brandon Dorsey, a museum member and Lexington resident, said the council is getting “pressure from a few left-wing ideologues … in Lexington who basically want to rewrite the history of the entire war to say that the South was evil.”

“People who come there, come to see the relics of the South,” he said. “They don’t want another politically correct watered-down museum that does not give hard viewpoints.”

Mr. Rawls told The Washington Times that the museum’s first choice would be to relocate somewhere in Richmond. But, he said, local leaders have shown little interest in keeping the museum.

Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors and Lexington City Council, have agreed to continue exploring the possible move and are excited about the potential economic impact the museum could bring to the city of about 7,000.

“The figures they provided were 50,000 potential visitors to the museum and a loose number of $6.50 per person,” said Frank Friedman, a City Council member. “Do the math … and you have a big fat revenue number.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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