Until museums move forward, a better plan might involve the flag traveling to various community centers, libraries, and museums throughout the country for a year, accompanied by trained facilitators and documentarians. Traveling beyond state borders would reinforce that the issues tied up in the flag are hardly limited to South Carolina. Each stop could provide a forum for communities to dissect what the flag means to them and for people to listen to others who may not share their point of view.
After the flag’s one-year tour, I do not think it should go to a museum. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to visit a mainstream museum I believe would make it an institutional priority to do the intense and in-depth public engagement this object deserves. That doesn’t mean there aren’t museums that handle race sensitively. The Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, North Carolina, specifically collects material culture dealing with the post-Reconstruction South, and its exhibit schedule challenges visitors to think critically about race. And there are many black museums around the country that do so as well. But it’s too often the case that black institutions are expected to use their resources to interpret images of white supremacy. The problem of interpreting this symbol shouldn’t be their burden.
It is long past time for the museum world to get its house in order. If museums genuinely want to be socially responsible, they will have to commit to learning about and addressing race. In the meantime, I believe the Confederate flag should go to the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. There it could serve as an emblem of free Africans in America working to survive while trying to dismantle white supremacy. That legacy belongs to them.