Museum to accept statue
Civil War Center says it will take Davis bronze; use is to be determined
By WILL JONES
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Richmond could get another statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
But this one might be treated differently from other tributes.
The American Civil War Center announced yesterday that it would accept a life-size bronze statue of Davis from the Sons of Confederate Veterans. A final decision rests with NewMarket Corp. as owner of the museum site at Tredegar Iron Works.
Under the museum's collections policy, the decision comes with no guarantee of where or whether the statue might be displayed or how it is interpreted.
Officials said the statue would help fulfill the museum's mission to tell the story of the Civil War and its causes, conduct and legacies from the Union, Confederate and African-American perspectives.
A spokesman for NewMarket, parent company of Ethyl Corp., said the firm had not yet been briefed on the statue proposal and could not say when a decision would be made.
Christy S. Coleman, museum president, said the statue could be used to show how the Civil War is remembered. The museum includes a gallery that focuses on that, examining such popular cultural influences as "Gone With the Wind" and "The Dukes of Hazzard" television show.
"We are committed to telling the story. Are we committed to propaganda? No," Coleman said.
For now, the decision is good enough for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Group members were angered in 2003, when a statue of Abraham Lincoln was placed on the Tredegar property by the National Park Service.
Brag Bowling, a Richmond resident and board member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he's delighted by the museum's decision. He hopes to meet with museum officials soon to discuss how the piece may be used.
"The statue is not meant to be put in a basement, that's for sure," he said. "It's a tool that will help their program. . . . I think it's a great monument for Richmond."
The statue is being prepared by Lexington sculptor Gary Casteel, and it depicts the Confederate leader standing with his son Joe and with Jim Limber, a mixed-race orphan who was taken in by the Davis family. The sculpture is expected to be completed by late fall at a cost of more than $100,000.
Coleman said the statue is interesting because it depicts Davis as a paternal figure and was offered by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "This really became more of an opportunity [to show] how people choose to remember."
Museum officials expect some backlash. "To a certain degree, that would have come regardless of the decision," Coleman said.
King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, called the museum's decision disappointing but understandable, given the criticism that likely would have come if the statue had been declined. He said Davis and the Confederacy are offensive to African-Americans because they represent a cause that was based on enslaving blacks.
"Now, it depends on how it's being deployed," Khalfani said, suggesting the statue be placed in permanent storage. "If it has a place of significance in the museum . . . we'll have to see."
Museum officials would not disclose the board's vote but Coleman said it wasn't unanimous.
"The board has made its decision," she said. "Bottom line, we can make this work to look at some pretty good legacy issues."