- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina Confederate Relic Room Director Allen Roberson would like to talk about his museum’s exhibits. But in the past 18 months, his days have been dominated by the unrequested responsibility of displaying the last Confederate flag to fly at the Statehouse.

The museum’s budget is about $825,000 - about $100,000 less than 10 years ago. The controversy over lawmakers requiring the museum to display the last flag before the banner was permanently taken down after nine people were killed in a racially motivated shooting at a Charleston church has cost the museum at least one $50,000 donation and cut into his fundraising time, Roberson said.

“All I want to talk about is our exhibits,” Roberson told The State newspaper (https://bit.ly/2la5biN) as he supervised the hanging of 47 maritime Civil War drawings and paintings that will go on display on Friday.

The museum’s name betrays its scope. The Confederate Relic Room was founded in 1896 and is the state’s oldest military museum. Its mission is to educate about the role South Carolina has played in all of the nation’s wars.

In December, the museum will open a major exhibit on the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and another exhibit on the Army Reserve 360th Civil Affairs Brigade in World War II, where the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond served.

“The name gives the impression it’s just about the Confederacy, but it goes far beyond that. It goes to the impact South Carolinians have had in these major global events. There are very important stories there,” said state Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, who has given items from the time he spent in 2007 and 2008 in Afghanistan serving in the South Carolina National Guard.

But displaying that last Confederate flag looms over the museum. Roberson and museum officials suggested a $3.6 million project to cover the Legislature’s requirement that the flag be displayed and the 20,000 soldiers from South Carolina killed in the Civil War be honored. It was not well received. The flag sits in storage as lawmakers have not given any money to the project.

The museum received criticism over being pro-Confederacy even with Roberson and others carefully trying to make sure all displays give both sides of an issue.

Roberson thinks the Confederate flag debate caused attendance at the Relic Room to drop from 24,800 in 2015 to about 19,800 in 2016.

“And before that we had five straight years of increasing attendance,” Roberson said. “Last year was the lowest attendance in 10 years.”

The flag has also added some other expenses to the museum’s proposed budget. Roberson is asking for $25,000 to hire a security guard and add security features to the Relic Room.

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This story has corrected a reference to the museum director to Roberson.

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Information from: The State, https://www.thestate.com


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