When the South Carolina General Assembly decided in July 2015 to take down the replica Confederate battle flag that had flown for years on the State House grounds, lawmakers entrusted the item to the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.
Lawmakers decreed that “Upon its removal, the flag shall be transported to the SC Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum for appropriate display.”
This made sense to legislators because the museum was founded in 1896 as the state of South Carolina’s military history museum. It is the oldest continuously operated history museum in the state, and one of only 13 nationally accredited museums in SC.
Once lowered, the flag was immediately transported to the museum, but is not yet on display. We are frequently asked why. The answer is that displaying this item appropriately is more complicated than it might seem.
The flag from the State House is a significant 21st century political artifact, not a 19th century military one. It was never carried into battle, unlike many of the approximately 150 S.C. military flags, dating from 1832 – 2009, that we have in our collection.
We already exhibit authentic Confederate battle flags that were actually carried into battle by South Carolinians. These flags bear the marks of war – gunpowder smoke stains, bullet and shrapnel holes, and on a very few, the blood of South Carolinians who carried them.
Our professional museum staff strongly believes that the flag from the State House should be exhibited separately from these genuine military artifacts, some dating back to the Revolutionary War.
Unfortunately, the museum currently does not have space or funding to construct a separate, permanent exhibit for the State House flag. The museum submitted a feasibility study and budget, approved by its governing commission, to the General Assembly to expand the museum into unused space in our building, and build a separate exhibit. This has not been approved.
In the meantime, the museum is continuing to develop a practical and appropriate plan for displaying the flag entrusted to it by the Legislature. The museum is currently looking at a more economical, alternate plan that will sacrifice much-needed existing space to exhibit the State House Confederate battle flag. For now, it is in secure, protected storage along with the thousands of authentic historical artifacts in our collections that we currently have no room to display.