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Museum Director Discusses Confederate Symbols And Society

Roberto Roldan
WUSF Public Media
Richard Banz, executive director of the Southern Museum in Georgia, said museums should foster community conversations about Confederate symbols.

Confederate flags and memorials have becomea point of political controversy in Tampa Bay and beyond.

In the political debate about public displays of Confederate flags and memorials, some people have suggested they belong in museums. But Richard Banz, executive director of the Southern Museum in Georgia, said museums don't exist outside of the charged debate about the Confederacy, slavery and history.

At a presentation at the Tampa Bay History Center, Banz discussed his experience designing an exhibit on the popularized Confederate battle flag.

"We gave a history of the flag, but then we went further: We said 'Okay, what did it mean to the Northerner's who fought against it and the soldiers who fought for it? What does it mean to people today? What has that flag become a symbol of?" he said.

Banz said museums shouldn't shy away from the opportunity to provide a forum for having difficult conversations about Confederate symbols and their complex historical context.

"Museums are really, and they should be, places for the community to come together and a potential for social interaction and social change," Banz said.

During a question and answer period, many expressed concerns about efforts to demolish or move Confederate memorials. Just a week earlier, a memorial for Confederate veterans built in 1911 was moved from in front of the Hillsborough County Courthouse to a private cemetery in Brandon.

Scott L. Peeler Jr.  is vice president of the Tampa Bay Civil War Roundtable, the group co-sponsoring the event.

Peeler said he is against the destruction of Confederate monuments, though he has come around to the idea that they could be moved to museums.

"There is such a movement underway to obliterate and remove our history and it just isn't right to do that," he said. "We need to be able to know what was done, be it good or bad."

While shying away from giving his personal views on public Confederate symbols, Banz told the audience that facilitating civil discussions and different points of view can and should be the work of museums.

The Tampa Bay History Center is hosting an exhibit on American flags and their place in our culture now through July.

Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.