Purchase Story

A Curious Plan

How does a relatively new museum get objects? In Tennessee, two legislators want to raid the Tennessee State Museum’s storage area.

On January 30 a bill was introduced in the Tennessee State Legislature that would require the Tennessee State Museum to turn over all artifacts relating to the Confederate States of America that are not currently on display. Those artifacts would be given to the nonprofit Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., operator of the National Confederate Museum.

The language of the bill is unequivocal. Everything—“all historical relics relating to the Confederate States of America that are not currently on display...including all items...assumed from the Tennessee Historical Society beginning in 1927”—would be forfeited and managed by the general executive council of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Joe Pagetta, director of communications for the Tennessee State Museum, said, “We are not in support of this bill.”

There’s a lot of stuff. Pagetta said there are about 2000 objects relating to the Confederacy, and most are not on exhibit.

It gets stranger. The bill would require that any Confederate States of America artifacts currently on exhibit at the state museum must “remain on permanent display.” If objects are removed from public view in the state museum, they must be “immediately transferred to the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ organization for full ownership, care, and preservation.”

Pagetta said, “We have a loan program, and we’re willing to loan artifacts,” adding that the National Confederate Museum had, up until very recently, never requested a loan.

In late March, action on the bill was delayed until 2024. After the bill was bumped, the Tennessee State Museum received a loan request, and “just last week we loaned them some artifacts for a month,” said Pagetta.

This bill would set a terrible precedent, create an impossible situation for the museum, and cause the irretrievable loss of state-owned historical artifacts. It deserves to never see the light of day.

Originally published in the June 2023 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2023 Maine Antique Digest

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