Flag hangs; group fumes

A Sons of Confederate Veterans group says the display is "tasteless."

Published March 17, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - A Confederate flag hangs from a noose at a gallows in an art and science museum in Florida's capital city. The display's title: The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag.

One of a dozen displays of Confederate flag art by political artist John Sims, it's part of an exhibit entitled AfroProvocations at the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science that opened as part of Black History Month in February.

And it's going to stay there, over the objections of a local Sons of Confederate Veterans group.

Robert Hurst, the leader of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans group, calls the display "tasteless and offensive," and demanded the museum remove it.

"That display is extremely offensive. It's very tasteless," Hurst said. "What they've told us, as Southerners, as sons of the Confederacy, is that it's okay to offend us. Apparently we don't matter. They're alienating a great deal of people in this area."

Friday, the museum's president and executive director called a press conference to say the display will stay.

Director Chucha Barber said the museum had no political agenda and was carrying out its mission.

"It is our mission to promote understanding of visual arts, science, mathematics and technology," Barber said.

Barber said every member of the Brogan's art exhibitions committee supported the display as appropriate, and that the works stimulated a dialogue in the community.

The display also includes Confederate flags arranged in a cross, a Confederate flag displayed above a voting machine and a restaging of Grant Wood's iconic American Gothic that shows a grim-faced Sims, arms crossed, standing next to a noose with the flag behind him.

The tax-assisted museum, named after the late wife of former Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan, released a letter from Hurst in which he said the display violates a state law that prohibits desecration of the Confederate flag.

Museum officials said the law allows exceptions for "decorative or patriotic" displays.

"John Sims falls into that category of 'artists' who, lacking true talent, must rely on gimmicks and controversy to keep the grants coming," Hurst wrote.

The display created controversy at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania in 2004, but this is not the first time Sims' flag art has been displayed in Florida.

Last year, his noose was displayed at a Sarasota art gallery during a film festival.

Hurst said the museum was going out of its way to use his criticism to create publicity.

"What they want is controversy, and this is what they're going to create," Hurst said.

"This teaches contempt for not only the Confederate flag but for everything associated with it," Hurst said. "We still cherish our Southern heritage and history and culture."

Hurst, 60, is a native of Talladega, Ala., who moved to Tallahassee in the 1970s to attend graduate school at Florida State and stayed. A pharmacist, he ran the state's Medicaid drug program in the 1970s.

Hurst said his great-great-grandfather, John Henry Hurst, was a Confederate soldier from Clay County, Ala., who survived the war but committed suicide shortly afterward.

The amount of media interest in his single complaint surprised even Hurst.

"Why would ABC in New York be calling about this little thing in Tallahassee, Florida?" he asked Friday.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.