Civil War mu­seum closes

The Standard Journal - - LIFESTYLES - By Kate Brum­back

AT­LANTA — This much ev­ery­one can agree on: A small Civil War mu­seum, nes­tled in an old farm­house at the site of a pur­ported bat­tle­field, has closed its doors and boxed up its Con­fed­er­ate and Union ar­ti­facts.

The lead­ers of a vol­un­teer group that runs the Nash Farm Bat­tle­field Mu­seum said they pre­ferred to close rather than fight a county com­mis­sioner’s re­quest to re­move all Con­fed­er­ate flags from the mu­seum. But the com­mis­sioner says she never made such a re­quest.

Whomever you be­lieve, the clo­sure has ran­kled res­i­dents as cities across the South — most re­cently New Or­leans — wres­tle with whether to re­move Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols seen by some as ves­tiges of racism and oth­ers as icons of her­itage. The is­sue has been es­pe­cially sen­si­tive since Dy­lann Roof, an avowed white su­prem­a­cist who posed in pho­tos with the Con­fed­er­ate flag, gunned down nine peo­ple at a South Carolina church in 2015.

The mu­seum sat on a 204-acre, county-owned park that’s about 30 miles south of At­lanta in Hamp­ton and is a pop­u­lar spot for wed­dings and other events. The cu­ra­tor gave the fi­nal tour May 18, and nearly all the ar­ti­facts — mostly loaned by pri­vate own­ers — had been re­moved by Thurs­day.

“It was a won­der­ful mu­seum and a great ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­ity,” Henry County his­to­rian Gene Mor­ris said. “It’s re­ally a sad thing to see it gone.”

No of­fi­cial county ac­tion led to the mu­seum’s clo­sure, spokes­woman Melissa Robin­son said. The county board of com­mis­sion­ers said in a state­ment Thurs­day that com­mis­sion­ers needed to ex­plore the facts more thor­oughly but that the clo­sure has caused “much di­vi­sive­ness and con­tro­versy.”

The mu­seum was open Fri­days and Satur­days and saw vis­i­tors from all 50 states and 15 coun­tries in its seven-year run, said vol­un­teer cu­ra­tor Bill Dodd.

“I think kids ought to have the abil­ity to touch and hold his­tory,” he said. “They learn more from touch­ing it, feel­ing it, smelling it than they do from read­ing it in a book or look­ing at it on a stupid com­puter screen.”

While some dis­pute the site’s bona fides as a Civil War bat­tle­field, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tion and ex­ten­sive re­search have turned up con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence it was part of a bat­tle in Au­gust 1864, Mor­ris said.

The park sits in the dis­trict of Com­mis­sioner Dee Clem­mons, who was elected in Novem­ber. Board mem­bers of the Friends of Nash Farm Bat­tle­field I nc., t he group that ran the mu­seum, said she’s been chip­ping away at the site since tak­ing of­fice.

First, Clem­mons asked to re­move an en­trench­ment replica built by a group that does re-en­act­ments, said Jimmy Pet­titt, pres­i­dent of the Nash Farm group. Then, in March, she had the county parks depart­ment re­move a Con­fed­er­ate flag that flew on the pa­rade field.

Ear­lier t his month, while at­tend­ing an event at the mu­seum, Clem­mons cornered board mem­bers and de­manded all Con­fed­er­ate flags be re­moved from the mu­seum, Pet­titt said.

But that would have left only Union flags, Pet­titt said: “How can you tell the story with­out both?”

In an emo­tional meet­ing that drew tears from just about ev­ery­one present, Pet­titt said, t he group’s board de­cided to close the mu­seum.

“You get tired of fight­ing with pol­i­tics and you get tired of fight­ing with other peo­ple,” he said.

The group has de­cided to fo­cus on pre­serv­ing the bat­tle­field, Pet­titt said.

Clem­mons said she only asked to re­move Con­fed­er­ate flags in the win­dows of t he mu­seum book­store that could be seen from out­side.

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