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Museum Of The Confederacy Seeks New Home, Possible Name Change

Deborah Fitts

(April 2007) RICHMOND, Va. - Signaling a determination to find a new home, on Feb. 28 the Museum of the Confederacy sent a Request for Proposals to more than a dozen locations interested in attracting the 111-year-old institution.

At the same time, in a move likely to cause heartburn among many on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, officials at the museum indicated a willingness to abandon the most significant part of its name - the word "Confederacy."

The word encountered overt opposition in Lexington, where the City Council has entered into nonbinding talks with the museum about possibly relocating in the historic Rockbridge County Courthouse, a vacant complex of buildings on Main Street. A member of the council objected to "Confederacy," saying it conjured up images of slavery and oppression.

Museum President and CEO S. Waite Rawls III suggested that the name was negotiable. He told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "The repositioning we've done over the past 30 years is to be more of a modern education institution and less of a memorial Ķ to the Confederacy."

In a letter released Feb. 28, however, Rawls said any possible renaming "should be considered speculation at this time. Retaining future economic viability and at the same time remaining faithful to the educational mission, identity and historic legacy of the Museum is a challenge faced in the relocation.

"No decision on whether or not to change the name has been made at this time, and possible new names for the Museum have not been chosen. Any decision that is made will be in concert with and dependant on the new location."

The issue is nothing new. Last fall an outside committee of historians, preservationists and others charged with weighing the museum's options concluded that the word "Confederacy" could be a liability.

It has "enormous, intransigent and negative intellectual baggage with many," the committee wrote. "For them, the Confederacy, and by association the Museum of the Confederacy, now symbolize racism."

Rawls said that in recent weeks inquiries regarding a new home have flowed in from across the state and from outside Virginia as well. The financially troubled museum has determined that it can no longer survive in the shadow of its ever-growing neighbor, the medical campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Plans are to leave the 1818 White House of the Confederacy, the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, in place at 12th and East Clay streets.

Megan Miller, spokesman for the museum, said the overriding goal is to complete the museum's move by 2011, the start of the 150th commemoration of the Civil War. "That will be a great time for us to be at a new location," she explained.

The 10-page Request for Proposals sets out the museum's needs, including about 60,000 square feet of space, adequate parking, proximity of restaurants and other historical attractions, easy road access and the like. Museum officials hope to begin reviewing the proposals by mid-April.

The Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans opposes any move out of Richmond, or change of name, even going so far as to suggest assuming control of the institution.

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