I moved to Florence, South Carolina in order to assist my elderly mother. While living here, I was inspired to learn more about the Confederate views of the War Between the States (Civil War). After some research, I found that there was a local museum that could satisfy my interest.
So on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I proceeded to locate this historical Confederate Museum. Once I arrived at my destination, there was a sign that read the “War Between the States” museum. In front of this humble looking building, there were a couple of cars. Upon entering this museum, I was greeted by a man behind the counter. He was talking with another gentleman but gave me an open invitation to view the exhibits. Posted was a sign that showed that a two dollar fee was required, so I paid the fee.
This museum was completely empty of any people except for the two men at the counter and me. As I began to discover the contents of this museum, it was apparent that it represented more than the Confederacy. Now I realized that I could get a cross viewpoint of history and not to be dominated by the Bars and Stars. They offered some Union soldiers’ material which impressed me, combined with a large array of Confederate artifacts.
Then I returned to the counter and the two men stopped talking and I requested that I have my two dollars returned. Carl, the director looked a little confused by my request but without hesitation returned my fee. He later revealed, that he thought that I was displeased with the contents. Being that I am a Northern Black Man, as I had stated before my exploration of the museum.
As Carl handed over my two dollars, I in turn handed him a twenty-dollar bill. At this point both men looked even more confused. This was my acknowledgement of his kindness and a place with such a wealth of historical facts. So we all relaxed after this exchange and my tour with Carl began. I found that even our famous Colonel Shaw with the 54th was represented. Many additional Union items were available for research.
It was actually a homecoming of sorts since I was born a Southerner, about 30 miles away from Florence. Since my grandfather was a Southerner and gave me the middle name of Lee. Apparently my grandfather, in addition to other Black Confederate soldiers, had great respect for General Lee.
Prior to me departing from this exhilarating afternoon experience, I wanted to share something with them. I went to my car and returned with my banner from Staten Island, New York. Back there I head a Committee that was commemorating the 150th anniversary of the “Civil War”. Carl asked to take a picture with me holding my banner. I honored his request since this man represented honesty and I respected that.
Ironically a couple of weeks later, I was enlightened about their annual Confederate Memorial Day. Once again the local map indicated that this event was a short distance from the museum. So I arrived at Mount Hope Cemetery, about ten minutes before the commencement.
There was a person directing parking, as I was stopped while displaying my New York license plates. It was very festive with many elderly and young looking people were in attendance. After parking my car, I noticed many re-enactors with different weapons from that time period.
Now I am walking with my camera and tripod, with ambitions of getting some unique pictures. Then I was approached by a well-dressed gentleman who introduced himself. He was the president of the Sons of Confederates organization. He welcomed me and commented on my New York representation.
This congregation was pleasant and I requested a program from one of the hostess. Once I positioned myself for taking pictures. It was apparent that I was the only Black person there.
Now it was time for the Keynote speaker of the afternoon. He stood at the podium and was welcomed with a respectful applause. In my mind I was preparing to hear of their pro Southern heritage and some displeasure of the North.
To my amazement, this gentleman prepped his audience of gray haired and some young folks with these words. He said that his message for the day was from a person that is not usually spoken of in these circles. His voice was strong and clear with a manly confidence. Now his opening statement began with the words of Maya Angalou. While I monitored their reactions to Maya Angalou, these recipients’ were polite in receiving his message.
I introduced myself to this man and thanked him for his choice of the person highlighting his message. He assured me that he tells the truth, wherever it needs to be heard.
Some people began to speak with me to satisfy their curiosity. I was informed that some refreshments were being served at the War Between the States Museum and that I was welcomed to attend. Unfortunately I was unable to attend since I had other responsibilities.
I was comforted and honored to inform them of my acquaintance with Carl! During a later conversation with Carl, he revealed that he was told that a Black man was in attendance. Carl replied by saying “ÿea that is Ronald and I have a picture of him on my camera.”
On another occasion, I was invited to their monthly meeting of the Sons of Confederates Soldiers. I attended to present an historical item for their museum. It was at this meeting that I learned of those at the Memorial Day event, who had taken pictures of me. What a remembrance day of unique narratives and picture taken, at this Confederate Memorial Day commemoration.
I was disappointed that the local Black citizens were missing from such an historical experience. These White folks were not hostile or disrespectful to me. It is natural that some were uncomfortable with me being there. If so, it was my New York license plates and my camera more than me the man. My conclusion is that more is lost from fear or prejudice, than with the facts.