“Conflict & Controversy” and “The KKK, The College, and the Flag” Exhibit Cases

“Conflict & Controversy” and “The KKK, The College, and the Flag” Exhibit Cases
Colleges In Virginia
Image by Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library
Shown here are the "Conflict and Controversy" and "The KKK, The College, and the Flag" exhibit cases for the exhibit "A Most Thriving & Growing Place": Williamsburg Before the Restoration.

The case on the left is the "Conflict and Controversy" exhibit case that features letters, photographs, postcards, and newspaper articles about the building of the Confederate Memorial in Williamsburg. The case also features photographs and letters about College of William and Mary President Lyon Tyler views on the equality of the races.

The following is from the Incendiary Speaker label in this case:

Sometimes, despite all our records, we have only glimpses of the past. Such is the case with an incident in 1920. We know from the Virginia Gazette that an incendiary speaker from Rhode Island was scheduled to speak at one of Williamsburg’s black churches. We know from Mary Haldane Coleman’s letter to her friend that George Coleman was among the white men who met with leaders of the African-American community and persuaded them to cancel the speaking engagement. But that’s all we know. Who was the speaker? Why was he considered incendiary? Did he ever speak in Williamsburg? If you can shed any light on this incident, please contact us.

The following is from the Lyon Tyler and Equality of the Races label in this case:

A minor controversy in 1901 demonstrates the strength of racial prejudice. William Roberts, the rector of Bruton Parish, wrote a vicious letter to the chair of the state constitutional convention criticizing the College of William and Mary and charging that its president, Lyon G. Tyler, endorsed the equality of the races. Tyler did so, according to Roberts, by allowing his daughter to attend Wellesley College with the daughter of the prominent African-American educator Booker T. Washington. At the time, Tyler was lobbying to the have the state government adopt William and Mary as a full-fledged state institution. Livid, he responded in a letter to Bruton Parish’s vestry, expressing his astonishment that the rector would try to undermine the future of another Williamsburg institution. Tyler indignantly refuted Roberts’ charge, denying that he supported racial equality and explaining that his daughter did not even know Washington’s daughter and that he had no control over who Wellesley chose to admit.

The following is from the Confederate Monument label in this case:

In the early 1900s, as Confederate veterans of the Civil War grew elderly and died out, the Williamsburg chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy decided to honor them with a monument. On May 5, 1908, surviving veterans and others gathered to dedicate the monument on the Courthouse (now Palace) Green, as seen in these pictures. When the Williamsburg Restoration took over the Green and rebuilt the Palace in the early 1930s, it pressured the UDC to move the monument, deeming it unsuitable in a colonial town. Some people resisted, and the poem here reflects their resentment. In January 1932, the UDC moved the monument to Cedar Grove Cemetery and a few months later to near the new courthouse on South England Street. Today, the monument stands in Bicentennial Park.

The case on the right is "The KKK, The College, and the Flag" exhibit case featuring letters and photographs surrounding the controversy of College of William and Mary President J.A.C. Chandler’s acceptance of a U.S. Flag and Flagpole from the Klu Klux Klan.

The following is from the main label text for this case:

College presidents sometimes face difficult decisions, knowing that whatever they decide, someone will be angry. Such was the case for William and Mary President Julian Chandler in 1926 when the Ku Klux Klan offered the College a U.S. flag and a flagpole. The Klan, notorious for its anti-black activities in the late 1800s, had revived in the 1920s, broadening its hatred to encompass immigrants and Catholics. Despite his dislike of the KKK, Chandler decided to accept their gifts for reasons he explained in a letter to Richmond newspaper editor Douglass Southall Freeman. More than 5,000 people attended the presentation ceremony. Chandler used his speech to lecture the KKK on the virtues of tolerance and diversity. Included here is some of the reaction, pro and con, to Chandler’s actions.

Above the two cases are two posters featuring the layout of Williamsburg before the Restoration.

See swem.wm.edu/scrc/ExhibitsatSwem.cfm for more information about past and present exhibits produced by the Special Collections Research Center.