It’s a much more immediate concern to me now that I’m running a Lincoln/Civil War site. In fact, at the same time I ran across Sacco’s post, we were dealing with this very issue at the ALLM. We just received a huge order of stock for our gift shop, which prompted a discussion in the office about merchandise with the Confederate battle flag.
In the past—in the pretty recent past, actually—many Civil War sites would stock souvenirs featuring the flag without a second thought. Indeed, a lot of sites and museums sold miniature CBFs themselves. But in the wake of recent violence associated with the flag, and because of closer consideration of the flag’s historical meanings prompted by that violence, museums and sites are proceeding more carefully. As Sacco notes, the National Park Service has stopped selling standalone Confederate flags.
But what about selling other items with Confederate iconography, like the miniature kepis emblazoned with the flag that Sacco spotted at the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum? Items like this encourage kids to situate their play in history, directing their imagination into historical channels. This playful engagement with the past might seem insubstantial, but in many cases it’s the sort of thing that makes future historians and history enthusiasts. Quite a few of you reading this probably started out by role-playing mock battles with toy guns and hats before moving on to books, battlefield trips, and perhaps careers in history. But is a Confederate flag on top of a toy kepi less problematic than one flying from a staff? A lot of folks would say no; indeed, some might argue that it’s even more problematic. What about those bags of plastic soldiers that are a staple of every Civil War site’s gift shop?
Here’s another example to consider. A few years ago I picked up a t-shirt at a museum in Corinth, MS. The back features an illustration of the death of Col. John Rogers, who fell after seizing his regiment’s colors in the attack on Battery Robinett. I bought it partly because, while working in an exhibit, I’d done some research on the photograph of Rogers’s body taken after the battle, and partly just because I wanted a shirt from my trip. It’s not really a “Confederate flag t-shirt” per se, but the battle flag is a pretty prominent part of the image on the back. Should a museum gift shop rethink stocking an item like that in the wake of Charleston and Charlottesville?
If you’re on staff at a Civil War museum or site, where do you draw the line when it comes to selling items with Confederate iconography? Does your site have a hard and fast policy in place, or is it handled on a case-by-case basis? Or is this something that hasn’t even come up for consideration?