South Carolina may pay $5M for Confederate flag display

Taxpayers may be shelling out more than $5 million for a new Confederate flag display at a museum.

A proposal given initial approval Thursday would renovate the state's Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, adding an entirely new second-floor room that would display dozens of other Confederate flags, uniforms and other memorabilia that currently sits in storage.

The jewel of the new wing would be a glass case with the Confederate flag last seen as a team of state troopers pulled it down at a ceremony in July. The Legislature agreed to remove the rebel banner less than a month after nine churchgoers in Charleston were killed in what police said was a racially motivated attack. A Confederate flag had flown at South Carolina's capitol for 50 years.

Surrounding the flag on three sides would be 8-foot tall panels made of hundreds of thousands if not millions of tiny LED screens. The panels could display scrolling names of the 22,000 South Carolinians killed in the Civil War, digitized photos from the museum's collection, videos or other items. That display alone would cost about $1.5 million according to architecture firm Watson Tate Savory and Haley Sharpe Design, which worked on the project together.

"If you go for something that has this drama, and this scale, it doesn't come cheap," said Alisdair Hinshelwood of Haley Sharpe Design.

The full price tag would build a new entrance to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum and add security as well.

Finding a proper home for the flag was a key part of getting the South Carolina House to support removing the flag. Rep. Joe Neal, a black Democrat who fought to get the flag down for decades, points out the resolution only calls for an "appropriate, permanent and public display." But Neal said he wants to see the committee's final report before deciding if he is OK with the plan.

"That being said, I don't think $5 million is necessary to display that flag in a place of honor," said Neal, D-Hopkins.

The commission is trying to get a plan to lawmakers before the next legislative session begins in January. The Legislature will have to approve and find money for any display of the flag, which could have black lawmakers oppose it for its cost or conspicuousness. Or Confederate flag supporters may think its display isn't prominent enough.

The museum commission unanimously gave preliminary approval to the plans Thursday.

The nine-member board contains at least three people with ties to organizations that honor Confederate heritage and has two vacancies. Businesswoman and board member Martha Van Schaick, a past national president general of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, liked how the display is modern and shows reverence for the soldiers who died for the South.

"I think honoring those soldiers is what this is about," Van Schaick said. "And I think this does that well."