This week in the Los Angeles Times, I wrote an op ed about the opening of Jefferson Davis’s “presidential” library. I realize how crazy that idea sounds, and it’s certainly in large part a bit of clever self-promotion by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who run the library. But as I point out in my op ed, every presidential library relates a one-sided version of history. And in a weird way, the Davis library is now the best place to see the logic behind those institutions in action.
Of course, the Davis library is also one of the best place to see Southern sympathizers distort history in some troubling ways. Since 2004, the Sons have become much more radical, purging thousands of moderate members and putting more emphasis on defending the Lost Cause. (You can read about that process here.) During that same timeframe, this process also occurred inside the Davis library. About seven years ago, a member named Robert Murphree pushed to broaden the site’s appeal; when I talked to him on the phone, he kept mentioning Monticello as the best model. After Katrina, however, the library’s other supporters cut Murphree and his allies out of the rebuilding process.
All this to say that, in a few places, at least, the Civil War still staggers on. If you need more proof, check out this short follow up I wrote for the Times in response to a few angry commenters.