SC museum group cuts Confederate flag display by $1.7 million

The proposed Confederate flag display and memorial to Confederate soldiers
The proposed Confederate flag display and memorial to Confederate soldiers / Photo courtesy of Watson Tate Savory

The Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum Commission on Tuesday lowered to $3.6 million a proposal for displaying the Confederate battle flag that was removed from the State House grounds in July.

The new proposal is about $1.7 million less than what a consultant proposed earlier this month. The new plan also reduces projected annual operating funds to $234,000 from the consultant’s proposed $416,000.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the plan, which includes opening a new wing at the Relic Room, which is located in the same renovated textile mill as the S.C. State Museum. The proposal also includes an electronic presentation of the names of all 24,000 South Carolina Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War and the conservation and display of period Confederate battle flags now in storage. The war began when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor and was fought from 1861 to 1865.

Among items cut Tuesday from the initial $5.3 million proposal were:

▪  $700,000 to repair a leaky roof above a planned new entrance;

▪  $589,000 for converting a courtyard adjacent to the Congaree Room into a landscaped public space;

▪  $369,000 in construction costs and display features.

Commission Chairman George Dorn of Lexington County said the panel was trying to fulfill both the letter and the spirit of the resolution that removed the battle flag from a pole on the State House grounds adjacent to the Confederate soldier monument. The flag was lowered following a contentious debate by the General Assembly after the murder of nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. An admitted white supremacist has been charged with the crimes.

Dorn noted the resolution calls for more than just the flag’s display. It also says the Relic Room “shall establish and maintain an appropriate, permanent, and public display honoring South Carolina soldiers killed during the Civil War to include (the flag removed from the State House grounds). This flag must be displayed alongside other distinguished military exhibits covering the Civil War.”

“We don’t have room to do an adequate and appropriate display according to the resolution,” Dorn said.

The Relic Room’s director, Allen Roberson, added that “just putting it in a box won’t settle a controversy that has gone on” since the flag was first flown on the State House dome in 1962. “We are the institution to resolve this. And this is a solution to resolve the problem as best we can.”

Roberson said that without an expansion, an “appropriate display” that meets the resolution’s criteria would take up the Relic Room’s only programming space, threatening its income and accreditation. “We’re busting at the seams, space-wise,” he said.

Four of the commission’s seven current members attended Tuesday’s meeting.

The commission met for the first time in late November. The Relic Room, which has a staff of four full-time employees and an annual budget of $860,000, rushed to present a plan to the General Assembly by its mandated Jan. 1 deadline, Roberson said.

“We’re going to deliver this to the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee by noon (Wednesday) before everyone leaves town for the holidays,” he said.

The plan – which would have to be approved and funded by the Legislature – would utilize a 4,600-square-foot second-story room directly above the Relic Room in the old textile mill on Gervais Street.

The use of the now-empty Congaree Room would increase the military museum’s size by about one third. Watson Tate Savory Architects Inc. of Columbia, along with British consultant Haley Sharpe Design, offered the first peek at the proposal earlier this month.

The plan approved Tuesday also calls for the entrance to the Relic Room to be expanded farther into the mill’s soaring atrium, making event space available and allowing for a new, direct stairway to the expansion. The new room would also have classroom and event space.

State Rep. Chris Corley, R-Aiken, said the initial $5.3 million proposal was “irresponsible” in light of pressing repair needs from the October floods and the crumbling condition of the state’s roads.

The lower figure is “still too much,” Corley said Tuesday.

Corley said there’s another aspect of the flag display proposal that concerns him.

“This is a payoff,” he said. “This is just like 2000, when the flag came down and there was a payoff – that was the Hunley. You take the flag down and then all of a sudden you’re going to put this huge amount of money into the Confederate Relic Room. It’s a trade-off and I do not like doing business like that.”

The H.L. Hunley was a Confederate submarine that sunk just outside Charleston Harbor in 1864. The state has helped pay for the submarine’s restoration.

Even the reduced price tag represents “an obscene amount of money,” Corley said. “This may blow everybody’s mind and throw everybody for a loop, but I am not voting for that much money to go into it.”

House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, R-York, also noted there are many historical items in the Confederate Relic Room, some with greater historical value than others.

Pope said he supports honoring the heritage component of the entire Relic Room. “By the same token, we do have big needs in the state, and we need to move forward on those.”

The price tag concerns him, but Pope said he also wants to be fair. “Let’s honor it and move on,” he said.

Dorn, the commission chairman, said he understands the proposal will not please everyone. But, he added, it fulfills the letter and spirit of the compromise resolution that led to the flag being removed from the State House grounds.

”If you want to look at it globally, this is a work in progress,” he said. “I just want to get it delivered (to the General Assembly), let everyone enjoy the holidays and get into the process of deliberation.”

Staff writer Roddie Burris contributed to this report

New Relic Room features

▪  Add a 4,600-square-foot room

▪  New atrium entrance

▪  Electronic display of the names of all 24,000 Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War

▪  Conservation and display of period battle flags now in storage