“This guy’s been very controversial from time to time”

Posted on May 31, 2011 by

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From the Charleston  (West Virginia) Gazette:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In its first meeting since half of its citizen members resigned in protest, the West Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission Tuesday awarded four community program grants totaling $11,160 — but tabled one funding request because of the event’s controversial keynote speaker.

The Guyandotte Civil War Days festival committee requested a $2,547 grant to help fund its annual re-enactment of the Nov. 10, 1861, Confederate raid of the Cabell County community.

And who was the proposed speaker?

Black southern heritage activist H.K. Edgerton.

H. K. Edgerton

Edgerton is known for his fantasies interpretations about the causes of the war and the participation of blacks, particularly the slave communities, in support of the Confederacy.  Indeed, Edgerton appears quite often as the leading spokesperson for the “black Confederate” theory (and I’m playing lose with that word).   West Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission member Rick Wolfe summed it up well, “This guy’s been very controversial from time to time.”  No, really?

And note that the commission opted not to provide any – ANY – funds for the Guyandotte event.  If the commission offered any funding, then the event could use the state sequicentennial logo for promotional material.  There was “concern that any sponsorship would appear to be an implicit state endorsement of Edgerton.”

There is, however, more to this story than just the rejection of Edgerton’s speaking services.  Earlier four of eight citizen commissioners resigned from the panel voicing concerns over the way funds were being used.  State Education and Arts Secretary Kay Goodwin feels that the sesqucentennial funds can and should go to support local commemorations.  On the other hand, Mark Snell, Professor and Director of Shepherd University’s George Tyler Moore Center for Civil War Study, felt the funds should focus on educational events.  As result of those differences, Snell and three others resigned from the commission.

I will say that from the “public” side, the West Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission has done a good job thus far promoting the observances within the state.  I’ve gotten email notices from representatives drawing my attention to the events.  And they have a rather useful website.  It is geared up for the tourists, yes.  So take it in that light.

Given that good marketing, and taking in consideration the resignations mentioned above, was the denial of funds for the Edgerton speech more a case of an organization, concerned about public opinion, distanced itself from a controversial speaker (and topic)?  Or was this more an olive branch to a group of former members?   Or a little of both?  Or, do you really care so long as “bad history” is not going on display?

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