COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Nearly two years after it last flew, South Carolina’s final Confederate flag remains in the same place it was taken immediately after it was removed from the flagpole in front of the Statehouse: a small, flat white acid-free box behind several locked doors.
That resting place doesn’t fulfill any part of the “appropriate, permanent and public display” called for when the South Carolina House passed a late-night resolution that helped assure passage of the bill removing the flag in July 2015.
That proposal provided no money for the display, and so far the Legislature hasn’t set aside any cash to pay for it.
Sons of Confederate Veterans Commander Leland Summers said Thursday that his group feels like it was swindled twice — first by taking down the flag, and then by lawmakers failing to keep their promise.
“They say there isn’t any money because they need to pay for things like education and roads. But I see plenty of money for legislators’ pet projects,” Summers said Thursday after a meeting of the board that oversees the Confederate Relic Room, where the flag is currently stored.
In the months after the flag was removed, the museum’s director brought in architects who proposed a nearly $4 million project. About half the money would have gone to a high-tech display including screens displaying pictures or names of Civil War dead alongside the banner.
The rest of the money would have helped with a long-needed overhaul of the museum’s display space and a new heating and cooling system for the more-than-a-century-old building, said Allen Roberson, executive director of the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.
That proposal and its cost did not go over well. Some lawmakers threatened to move the museum to the Charleston area during the year after the flag was removed.
This year, legislators have simply ignored the flag. There was no discussion during budget negotiations and Robeson is having trouble even getting them to call him back.
So Roberson told the museum board Thursday that he is going to spend the next several months pushing a proposal to spend just $200,000 to renovate two offices into a display area for the nylon flag so it will have a place of importance for its political value, but also separation from the military relics already on display.
“The staff feels very strongly it is not a military artifact. It doesn’t need to be stuck on a wall somewhere in a frame,” Robeson said. “A lot of these flags have gunpowder, blood, bullet holes — they were what 18- and 19-year-old boys died fighting under. This is not the same thing.”
Meanwhile, the final flag, wrapped in acid-free tissue, sits in a special white box behind several locked doors, tucked in between rows of other stored items not on display in a room where the temperature is always 70 degrees and the humidity is always 50 percent.
“We give it the same care as artifacts that are 150 years old. In fact, it is among artifacts that are 150 years old,” said Rachel Cockrell, collections manager for the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.
The final flag has been there since July 10, 2015, when a special team of highway patrolmen in dress uniforms pulled it down from the flagpole on the Statehouse’s front lawn, wrapped it like a scroll and gave it to Roberson. He took it to a waiting armored van with state agents inside for what is typically a seven-block drive to the museum. On that day there was a second, decoy van and other measures taken as precautions.
The box may be the flag’s home for a while. Several lawmakers who supported taking down the Confederate flag permanently and have sway in the budget process in South Carolina didn’t return phone calls from The Associated Press.
Rep. Bill Taylor, a Republican from Aiken who voted against removing the flag, said lawmakers need to fund the display to keep their word to people who see the Confederate flag as a remembrance of their ancestors who fought in the Civil War.
“It’s a broken promise,” Taylor said. “There was the expectation by many of the constituents I serve that their Southern heritage would be respected and the flag would find a new place of public honor.”
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