March 29, 2015;Florida Today
It’s almost Confederate History month. Did you know that along with showers, April also brings Confederacy flags and memorabilia to one county library? For the past several years, the Central Brevard County library in Florida annually displays items from the Confederacy related to the Civil War, as sponsored by a local chapter of the Confederate Sons Association of Florida. This year, however, the local Central Brevard County chapter of the NAACP has filed a citizen’s request to the County Commission opposing the display and prompting a review of county policies of such display cases.
According to the request, local chapter president Willie Smith said that “previous displays of the Confederate history have upset members of the community.” Smith said while there had been previous requests to restrict the display, this is the first time the group would be going to the County Commission.
The display includes several items of Confederacy memorabilia, like “flags, pieces of Confederate military uniforms, pictures, books and a placard showing the logo of the organization.”
According to Brevard County Communications Director Don Walker, the county policy allows the display case to be “made available to the general public each month for the display of items of educational and community interest.” Library directors are allowed to “exercise objective judgment in the display of unsolicited materials. The display of unsolicited materials in the libraries shall be limited to impartial cultural and educational subjects which are non-partisan and non-sectarian in nature.” The same policy prohibits the display from promoting any specific ideas, services or religions.
In response to the complaint, Walker says county officials are recommending tighter guidelines on what can be displayed in the case to the County Commission, who will be meeting today, Tuesday, March 31st, to discuss what changes, if any, need to be made.
“We’re taking control of the content of our display cases,” Walker said. Current federal and state laws severely restrict local governments’ ability to control the content of any “public displays in first-come, first-served open forums, designated for that purpose by the local government.”
With a limited role, county officials are looking into giving the library staff the ability to select what goes into the displays. The library is also planning on placing other displays to depict a more comprehensive history of the Civil War, in addition to the Confederate items.
Others are none too happy about a potential decision to remove the display, and perhaps restrict future similar displays as well.
“It’s infuriating,” said Mary Morgan, a member of a local Confederate Sons group, said. “History is history. There is nothing that is inflammatory about the stuff that we put in the display. Those are all Americans. We weren’t fighting Germans, and that’s not a Nazi display. It’s American history.”
The group describes itself as a “historical, educational, and non-political Southern heritage organization” that participates “in living history demonstrations, educational programs, parades, civic events, and Confederate memorial services.”
NPQ has previously written about museums in a position similar to the Central Brevard County library and what role cultural institutions have in displaying controversial items that may inspire passions, like those that have been in evidence here. In displaying the Confederacy items, the library isn’t necessarily endorsing the symbolism of the pieces. But by allowing the display, are they giving a potentially offensive group a pulpit?—Shafaq Hasan