COLUMBIA, S.C. — The governing board of South Carolina’s Confederate Relic Room isn’t giving up on a $3.6 million proposal to expand the state’s military history museum and display the battle flag removed from Statehouse grounds in summer 2015.
The board voted unanimously Thursday to “vigorously advocate” for the proposal legislators shot down early last year, when a House subcommittee chairman emphatically refused to use taxpayers’ money to fund any of it.
Commissioners say they believe legislators didn’t understand the project’s breakdown and will stress as they try again that the rebel flag display represents $550,000 of the total price tag — a cost that includes electronic screens scrolling the names of 22,000 South Carolina soldiers killed in the Civil War.
The unanimous vote came after the museum’s director suggested displaying the flag in existing office space at an estimated cost of $200,000.
“We’re mandated to exhibit it. We need to move forward and not let it sit,” Allen Roberson said.
His suggestion involved combining two offices, raising the ceiling and installing glass doors to separate the space from the main gallery. While the flag furled in July 2015 is historically significant as the last Confederate flag to fly on Statehouse grounds, it is not a military history artifact and therefore should not be displayed next to regimental flags that bear the bullet holes, gunpowder residue and bloodstains of battle, Roberson said.
Commissioner Leland Summers said that display would be a temporary solution.
“I have no qualms about having available to us other contingency plans, but we need to aggressively pursue the plan we already submitted,” said Summers, commander of South Carolina’s Sons of Confederate Veterans. “We don’t need to sell ourselves short.”
Legislators approved bringing down the rebel flag following the massacre of nine black parishioners at a historic Charleston church. The gunman sentenced to death earlier this week could be seen in photos with the flag.
The law specifically sent the flag to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, which has artifacts from every war South Carolinians have fought in. A separate measure directed the museum’s director to estimate costs for the flag’s “appropriate, permanent, and public display.”
But House leaders balked at the $3.6 million price tag of the board’s December 2015 proposal. That included $1.1 million to expand the museum — which is located at the back of the State Museum building, through a separate door — $500,000 for a new entrance, $850,000 to conserve existing flags and supporting artifacts and $650,000 to exhibit those.
Much of the museum’s collections are in storage due to lack of space.
“We’re not funding it,” then-Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said at a budget hearing last February. “If we have to delay the display of the flag a few years, so be it.”
Instead of spending any money on the flag, the Legislature approved studying the possibility of moving the 121-year-old museum to Charleston. That idea was nixed by Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto.
The museum’s leaders said Thursday that legislators never formally approved or rejected their plan.