Bud Kennedy

Dallas saw too much Rebel in Texas Civil War Museum

Confederate Heroes Day celebrated at Parker County Courthouse

Sons of Confederate Veterans gathered at the Parker County Courthouse Friday to celebrate Confederate Heroes Day. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram)
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Sons of Confederate Veterans gathered at the Parker County Courthouse Friday to celebrate Confederate Heroes Day. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram)

The Texas Civil War Museum is supposed to be about history.

Right now, it’s more about politics, and that’s why it can’t be trusted with Dallas’ 1935 bronze sculpture, “Robert E. Lee and Young Soldier.”

Opened 12 years ago by Parker County oilman Ray Richey as a neutral collection of artifacts, the museum left some recent Dallas guests and online visitors thinking it’s more of an advocate and apologist for the Confederacy.

“I’m sorry, and there are some things out here I’ve got to correct,” Richey said Tuesday after Dallas Morning News columnist Robert Wilonsky found Confederate symbols and messages dominating the museum, particularly in the gift shop and in a romanticized video, “Our Honor, Our Rights: Texas and Texans in the Civil War.”

Dallas city officials considered loaning the museum the Lee statue, but probably won’t. The vote is Wednesday.

Richey said the museum “does not swing one way or the other, and that’s the way I’ve wanted it since day one.”

But on its Facebook page, the museum takes an activist role defending Confederate monuments and against local governments making local decisions.

On one post, the museum calls it critical that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office be “bombarded” with calls defending Confederate memorials because the Dallas city council has “gone rogue.”

Another Facebook post says to call Gov. Greg Abbott as “the only person who can act to stop the removal.”

“For whatever reason,” the post reads, “he has chosen to ignore his most staunch supporters.”

Maybe that’s because every Confederate memorial or monument was built at a different time for a different reason, and some were spiteful or malicious.

And maybe that’s because now we’re trying to reconcile with fellow Texans and repent racism, segregation and slavery, not rekindle that war.

“That stuff shouldn’t be on our page,” Richey said.

“I’m going to have to take a look. That page should only be about history.”

From the beginning, Richey and his wife, Judy, have walked a fine line to present their multi-million-dollar collection of Civil War antiques, flags and women’s and girls’ dresses.

The museum itself is divided into sides, including the coat Union Gen. Ulysses Grant wore at Appomattox, and another Union general’s headquarters flag blanket.

The Richeys chose the name “Civil War Museum,” not “Confederate.” Some Confederate lineage and ancestry groups complained it was too neutral, but the United Daughters of the Confederacy loaned its collection and has one of three seats on the museum board.

“We’re criticized for not taking more of a stand,” he said,

“We just deal with the artifacts and try to present the war as it happened. We don’t want to get into the ‘why.’ ”

McMurry University professor Donald S. Frazier is an unofficial advisor, although the Richeys are the curators.

The Richeys’ part of the museum is “absolutely 50-50,” he wrote by email. He couldn’t speak to the Daughters’ collection or the gift shop, which Richey acknowledged has more Confederate battle flags than the three genuine Confederate national flags.

(If someone only loves one particular Confederate flag, they’re not really waving it for history.)

Frazier wrote the film 20 years ago and would change it today, he said.

“It was designed to talk about Texas in the war … and do it in pretty simple terms,” he wrote.

“Now the conversation has changed.”

So should the museum.

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