It was more than a year ago that city crews removed the Admiral Raphael Semmes statue from its perch at the intersection of Government and Royal streets downtown. More than 60 weeks later, the statue has yet to make an appearance at its new home inside the History Museum of Mobile. This has rankled some of those who did not want to see it pulled from its pedestal in the first place.
“Personally, I don’t think the (museum) board wants it in there, and they’re trying to contextualize it and make him a villain,” Sons of Confederate Veterans Raphael Semmes Camp 11 spokesman Joe Ringhoffer said. “I can’t imagine after how long it has been that they can’t get it going. Obviously, they don’t want it in the museum.”
In an email, Museum Director Meg McCrummen Fowler wrote that the museum has every intention of adding the statue to its exhibits and the timeline is similar to other additions.
“The History Museum has been working diligently on plans to display the Admiral Semmes statue in a way that contextualizes not only his story, but also the history of the statue itself,” Fowler wrote. “After a process of consulting with community leaders and stakeholders, museum staff is now actively working to adjust existing exhibits and prepare interpretive materials for its installation.”
The process has taken longer than expected, she wrote, partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the process is still following a timeline similar to other exhibit installations.
“There are a lot of logistics to accommodating an 8-foot, almost-one-ton statue,” Fowler wrote. “The process has taken a bit longer than expected, but it’s important that we get this just right. Typically, incorporating a new object into existing exhibits takes (six to) 24 months.”
Museum Board Chairman Greg Reynolds said the leadership of the facility wants to see the statue in the building and properly contextualized.
“The game plan is to place the Semmes statue within the museum,” Reynolds said. “We’re working on a storyline for it, and we’re hoping to have it up by the end of the year.”
The board put a lot of work into the effort to get the plan right and add the proper context to the former Mobilian.
“We put together a committee of members to discuss options and placement,” he said. “We invited different folks from the community to talk to the committee.”
The statue was removed from its pedestal in the early morning hours of June 5, 2020. At the time, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration vowed that it would not return to its very public, very prominent placement while he served as mayor. The pedestal itself was removed sometime later.
The Semmes Camp of the SCV asked the Mobile City Council to allow the group to take back ownership of the statue, but members sided with Stimpson, who argued the monument was a gift to the city and therefore was public property.
A ladies auxiliary group related to an original Confederate veterans group raised the money for the statue in the late 1800s and had it commissioned in 1900. It was displayed in 1901, Ringhoffer told councilors.
In his address to the council at the time, Ringhoffer said Stimpson broke the state’s monument law and therefore “disavowed” the gift.
The city was found to have broken the monument law and Attorney General Steve Marshall did notify the administration that it owed money for a fine. The fine was paid for through private donations, according to Stimpson’s staff.
While the attempt to get the statue back in SCV custody failed last time, Ringhoffer could see the group resurrecting its plea some time after November when a new council is seated.
“We’re waiting for the election,” Ringhoffer said. “We could approach the new council to see what happens.”
Semmes was a U.S. Navy officer before resigning his commission to join the Confederacy once Alabama seceded from the Union. He was promoted to rear admiral while fighting for the Confederate navy. Semmes owned slaves and supported slavery, according to many historical accounts.
Ringhoffer said the people in Mobile felt strongly enough about him that they bought a house for the admiral. Ringhoffer called him a “Christian gentleman” and “patriot.”
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