[image-1] The Confederate battle flag that once flew in front of the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia is now on display in a museum, but the plaque next to it makes no mention of why the flag was removed in the first place.
The replica flag has been hanging behind a glass frame at the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum since late November.
“We did not publicize it at the time, assuming that people would find out on their own, which they have,” said Allen Roberson, the museum’s executive director, in an email to the City Paper.
From 2000 to 2015, it flew alongside a memorial to Confederate dead directly in front of the capitol.
The Confederate flag has been a political hot potato in Columbia for more than 20 years, but wasn’t removed until 2015 after a white supremacist killed nine black worshippers during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Among those killed was state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the minister at the church.
In the days immediately following the mass murder, politicians including Gov. Nikki Haley and Congressman Mark Sanford resisted calls to remove the flag from its prominent place in front of the state legislature. Sanford called the issue a “Pandora’s box.”
Eventually, lawmakers from both parties, including Haley and Sanford, united around the cause of removing the flag in the wake of Emanuel, earning enough votes from two-thirds of the House and the Senate to support moving the flag to a museum.
The 2015 legislation that removed the flag specifically called for it to be transported to the Confederate Relic Room, which shares a building with the South Carolina State Museum, for “appropriate display.”
[image-2]”This is the last reproduction Confederate battle flag to fly on the State House grounds, taken down from the pole behind the Confederate Soldier’s Monument on Friday, July 10, 2015,” reads the plaque.
Notably absent from the short write-up is the tragedy that led to the flag’s removal.
Roberson says there were bigger plans for the flag display, but that budgetary constraints limited what the museum could do.
“Our $350,000 proposal that passed both the House and the Senate last year, but did not make it into the final state budget, would have allowed us to renovate existing office space adjacent to our main gallery and develop a more comprehensive, but small and separate contextual exhibit, that also included projection and audio,” he said.
The museum’s initial proposal was significantly more expensive, coming in at $3.5 million for a new wing and entrance to the museum.
“That expansion would have provided the museum with additional gallery space and much-needed program space,” Roberson said.
The current display runs the museum about $1,400, according to The State newspaper.
Carl Borick, director of the Charleston Museum, says he would’ve at least mentioned the tragedy if he were tasked with crafting the flag’s display.
“If we were gonna exhibit it here, I don’t see how there’s any way you can’t [mention Mother Emanuel],” he said in a phone interview with CP. “But again, museum staffs — they’re responsible for interpreting their artifacts.”
The S.C. Secessionist Party holds annual rituals where the flag was flown, constructing a temporary flagpole in the same spot where it last stood on the Statehouse grounds for 15 years. The flag flew on top of the capitol dome next to the S.C. and American flags until 2000, when it was moved near the memorial under Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges.