Earlier this week Andrew Morrow, executive director of the Florida Agriculture Museum, submitted a request for a $1,500 grant from the county’s Tourist Development Council to defray the costs of the Pellicer Creek Raid, the annual Civil War reenactment event started six years ago at the museum. It has since grown to attract 150 reenactors and, last year, 1,200 spectators.
The event, on Oct. 11, 12 and 13, is the kick-off of the Civil War reenactment season across the state, a ritual that draws roughly 20,000 people statewide, and that continues a popular tradition across the south. There was nothing controversial about the request, which the TDC approved.
But before it did so, Bill McGuire, the Palm Coast City Council member and a member of the TDC, raised a question. “This is kind of a politically correct thing,” he said, “but with all the flap going on in the media about displaying the Confederate flag, do we envision any problem with this? Let me say, when I worked in South Georgia, Civil War reenactments were extremely popular. Now, that was 10 years ago, but the Confederates always won and usually slaughtered the Union down to the last man. But that’s a digression. I am concerned about whether there’ll be any public reaction when the Confederate flag is displayed, which it should be, at a reenactment.”
McGuire’s concern is likely misplaced. Displaying the Confederate flag on public property in permanent displays has been drawing criticism in waves since the 1990s, when the NAACP started the movement to remove such displays—cresting, most recently, with the successful push to have the flag removed from the grounds of the South Carolina and Alabama legislatures, but not from the grounds of Marion County government in Florida.
But the movement has not attacked displays of the flag in museums, as part of historical displays or events—such as reenactments—or on private property. And for six years at the Agricultural Museum in Palm Coast, reenactments have taken place between Blue and Grey without incidents, and with the flag flying.
“At our events we do have equal opportunity victories,” Morrow said, “on one day the Confederates win and on the other day the Union wins, so we make sure there’s no bias there. As for the public stance right now, it is part of the heritage.”
“No question about it, but it’s extremely controversial,” McGuire said, suggesting a look into security. But the event’s budget, $4,600, is mostly spoken for. The program includes, according to the museum’s grant application, “a Friday school day, vendors of historic goods, lecturers, and troops representing the Northern and Southern armies of the Civil War.”)
But the same day that McGuire was making his point at the development council, Florida State Sen. Geraldine Thompson, the Orlando Democrat, introduced a bill at the Legislature, for discussion during the session that begins in January, to ban all displays of the Confederate flag “on publicly owned or leased property.”
The prohibition would extend to “display of the flag or emblem of the Confederate States of America or any flag or emblem used by the Confederate States of America or its military or naval forces at any time within the years 1860 to 1865 on any building, structure, real property, or personal property owned or leased by the state, a county, a municipality, or other governmental unit,” the bill reads.
Problematically for the museum, which is publicly owned, the proposed bill does not make an exception for historical reenactments, though should the bill advance through committee, where bills typically are amended, re-written or killed, such an exception is almost certain to be added. (Morrow did not return a all Friday.)
Already, another legislature is promising to kill it. House Local and Federal Affairs Chairman Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, told the News Service of Florida that the bill will die if it comes to the committee he leads. “It’s unfortunate that we’ve gotten tied up in this discussion of cultural cleansing,” Baxley said. “The problem is once you start moving on this, then it goes to monuments, then it goes to roads, then it goes to disturbing graves.”