When I started this blog, I promised myself I’d tell the truth to the best of my ability. I did this knowing there would be times it would not be easy, like when I had to admit serious doubt and fear during the first days as a full-time RVer. Like today’s post about racism in Middle Tennessee. And next week’s post about more racism in Middle Tennessee.

I spent six weeks in Middle Tennessee in the spring 2018. And, first, I must say that nearly all of my experiences and interactions with people were lovely. Positive and friendly. The area is beautiful. And if given the chance, I recommend you visit. I would gladly return.

The most surprising thing, for me, was meeting people who seem to still be angry the south lost the Civil War. No one actually said they were still angry but it was definitely the vibe they exuded. Like the First 72 Hours post, it’s taken me a while to process a few of the experiences during my time there. I needed to process it, so I could write about it. Then as I wrote, it turned out, I had a lot to say. Therefore, I had to break up this topic into two posts. Be sure to come back next week for Part II.

Racism in Middle Tennessee

Considering what plays out on the nightly news on a regular basis, you would think, I would’ve been prepared to come face-to-face with racism. I wasn’t. Not even close.

Remember, before my RV life, I hadn’t spent time in any formerly-Union states. Though certainly I had friends who had and who talked about it. Still, I wasn’t prepared.

Diverse hands in a circle

Celebrate diversity.

In fact, before my RV life, I worked 15 years for an organization whose mission is, in part, to eliminate racism. In my retirement speech, I even talked about the many cultures and colors and languages I’d been exposed to since we pro-actively hired diverse employees.

And I loved it.

In Tennessee, there were small things—like seeing a large Confederate flag flying on private property along a section of a major highway—but this post is about the bigger things. Specifically, two incidents that left me shaken and another one that didn’t quite rise to that level but that still left me unsettled for days afterward.

Today I share background about the area and one of the bigger incidents. Then I’ll continue the story next week with the other two.

The Confederate Flag

I previously shared other adventures in Columbia, Tennessee. Most notably, in Columbia you’ll find the only surviving residence of President James K. Polk.  Besides the White House, of course. But I visited another place on the day I went to Columbia.

To me, the most fascinating part of this story is that Sons of the Confederate Veterans never would’ve made my adventure list if not for the fact I found it on every internet search list of “things to do in Columbia.” In my mind, being on Trip Advisor or promoted by the local community, made the recommendation a legit one.

Hesitant because of the name, I was even more so after looking at their website. I revisited the website several times trying to figure out what kind of museum it was, what kind of organization it was. Again, if not for the fact it was touted as something to do in the area, I would’ve dismissed it out of hand.

However, because it made those lists and because I try to keep an open mind to experiences, I decided to drive to the place. I told myself if it didn’t feel right, I could leave. Keeping an open mind doesn’t mean overriding my gut when it says, “No!”

The huge property, lush with hilly grass, has a driveway that’s probably a quarter mile long. The house is beautiful. But coming up the long drive, the prominently displayed flag pole is the first thing you see. You see it almost before you see the house. A flag similar to the Confederate flag flapped in the breeze.

Antebellum House

Drive up to the Sons of the Confederate Veterans Museum.

But it wasn’t the Confederate flag. I didn’t recognize the flag.

The feeling in my stomach was the same as when I looked at their website. Serious doubt filled me as to whether this was a legitimate place for a tourist. As unsettled as I felt, I didn’t feel unsafe. It wasn’t that kind of feeling.

Open mind, I told myself. So, I parked and went inside. Had the Confederate flag been flying, I would not have gotten out of my van. Of that, I am certain.

During the tour, I learned they rotate flags among the various Civil War battle flags. So, it turns out, they regularly fly the Confederate flag. Just not the day I visited.

Step inside and you are in the small gift shop. There, however, the Confederate flag draped over a banister. It, along with the three other battle flags, are displayed because they are also for sale.

Why I didn’t leave then? I don’t know. Curiosity, maybe. I continue to wonder how and why a place could be listed as a top thing to do in Columbia. Maybe computer algorithms only read the word “museum.” I don’t know. I do like old house tours. And that’s what I went for. Also, the flag, along with others, draped over a second floor banister didn’t seem nearly as aggressive as if it had been flying at the top of a flag pole.

The tour guide repeated several times that the Confederate flag wasn’t the National flag of the states that seceded. She said, it was just a battle flag. I felt like an attempt to minimize or dismiss the negative connotations most of us feel when we see that flag. Implying that those who are offended by that flag are just oversensitive because it’s only a battle flag and not the National flag.

Brief Tangent

Even more fascinating, to me, when it came to the battle flags and their history is the context. When I visited the Old Jail Museum in Lawrenceburg, in the military room, my tour guide, Doyce, picked up a miniature set of the exact same four flags. He gave me the same explanation about the four flags. One, for example, had too much white on it and if it wasn’t billowing it might appear as a flag of surrender.

Exit. Way Out Sign.

Exit Sign at the Old Jail Museum in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.

But the feeling I got when Doyce explained it was one of interest and learning and history. The same explanation at the Sons of the Confederate elicited feelings of racism, hatred and general ickyness. Interesting, right? In both situations, I saw four flags and heard the progression from one to the next. So why did I feel fine about it one time and the opposite the next time?


Back to the Tour

The irony is that Sons of the Confederate claim their non-profit purpose is history not hatred. But that was not at all the vibe I got from the website, the museum or the employees. Throughout the tour, I kept telling myself to withhold judgement. But then, the proverbial straw. At one point in the tour I just couldn’t make excuses anymore for the kind of place I was visiting.

The tour is about the house and its history. Like other old houses-turned-museums, the home displays furnishings and decorations of the period.

Until we arrived in one of the bedrooms.

The quilted spread covered the bed. Bright red and blue. A giant-sized Confederate flag quilt. My first thought was one of amazement. How could a quilt that’s 150+ years old be so vibrant? Neither the dark blue or dark red showed the least bit of fading.

If you’ve ever been on an old house tour, you’ll know the tour guides don’t discuss every item in every room. If they did, the tour would take days. Generally, guides highlight the most unique items. Or the ones with the most interesting histories.

In the bedroom, my tour guide walked right to the bed and rested her hand on it. She said she wasn’t going to talk about what was on the quilt because she knew people had strong feelings about it. But that, on her tours, she liked to point out the quilt because it was handmade by one of their members. Hand stitching and all. (I took a photo of it, but simply cannot bring myself to include it with this post.)

That’s when the low hum in my head, the one that started with my first visit to their website—turned into a fire station four-alarm ear-piercing scream.

That’s when I knew. This place really was about the Confederate flag and what it represents to most of us. If it were about history and about a period home, then a quilt made by a current member would have no place on a bed highlighting the 1860s. And no tour guide would highlight it on a tour.

After that, the tour couldn’t end fast enough. I wanted away from the negativity and ugliness I felt by being there.

It still bothers me that I gave $5 to the Sons of the Confederate. No matter what their public mission statement, the tour guide acknowledged that many of the members have strong racist ideations. And, even more horrifying, they likely have racist actions. While $5 may not be much in the scheme of their organization with its members (“including blacks,” I was told several times), it’s still $5.

Stop Racism Sign


I tell myself I paid $5 to see the lovely antebellum house but it doesn’t help. Not one single bit.

There’s More

I hope you will come back next week when I share two more stories that left me sad and angry. Both at the same time. Hint: I titled next week’s post, “On Being Called a Nazi in Middle Tennessee.”

Yep, that happened.

Links to Referenced SSL Blog Posts Above: