Jan 05, 2003
He played major role in funding Museum of the Confederacy
BY STEVE CLARK
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Plans to erect a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Richmond have made longtime Richmonder Robert H. "Bob" Kline the target of e-mail potshots fired by scads of unreconstructed Southerners, including some members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization.
Sir: The placing of a statue of Lincoln in the capital of the Confederacy is akin to erecting a statue of Tojo at the USS Arizona Memorial. Your plans for Richmond are ill-conceived, insensitive and insulting.
That was one of the milder missives.
Bob Kline, an Illinois native who has lived in Richmond for nearly 50 years, is under attack because he is chairman of the United States Historical Society, a Richmond-based, nonprofit organization that specializes in creating a variety of items related to American history.
The society recently announced it has commissioned a sculptor to create a life-sized bronze statue of Lincoln sitting on a bench beside his young son, Tad.
The statue will commemorate Lincoln's visit to Richmond on April 5, 1865 - two days after Union troops captured the smoldering city and four days before the Civil War ended.
If all goes according to plan, the statue will be unveiled April 5 at the National Park Service's Richmond National Battlefield Park Civil War Visitors Center on the grounds of the old Tredegar Iron Works. Tredegar was a major supplier of munitions to the Confederate army.
Kline, a soft-spoken U.S. Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War, is taking the criticism in stride.
"I knew this project would stir up some people," he said.
But the passionate anger expressed by some critics has not cooled Kline on the project. He is convinced a statue of Lincoln in Richmond is a fitting commemoration of an important moment in the city's storied history.
"We have had lots of positive feedback, too," he said.
One proponent wrote, in part, as follows:
Dear Mr. Kline: I am a born and bred southerner living in Manassas, Virginia. I am a Civil War re-enactor serving with a primarily Confederate unit that also does a Federal impression . . . As someone with a deep appreciation of my southern heritage, I became aware of the controversy around your Lincoln statue and the organized opposition by some groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Civil War is over! We are all now Americans. I support your laudable goal to point to healing the wounds.
Kline finds it somewhat amusing that people who emphasize the importance of honoring their Confederate heritage are verbally slamming him and the U.S. Historical Society.
Over the years, the society has produced an enormous amount of collectible items related to the major figures of the Confederacy. One example: A reproduction of Robert E. Lee's pistol.
As for Kline, he played a major role in the fund-raising campaign that built the new Museum of the Confederacy beside the White House of the Confederacy in the early 1970s.
"We raised the money to build that museum," he said.
"We" refers to Morrison and Kline, then a Richmond public-relations firm in which Kline was a partner. The firm came up with a project that enabled the campaign to reach its goal of $1 million - a goal that one precampaign study had determined was too high.
"The study was wrong," Kline said.
Kline's firm oversaw the mass production of 10 collector plates related to American history. Some 1,200 matched sets of plates were sold at $900 a set, thus raising over $1 million.
The U.S. Historical Society was organized in 1973 as the U.S. Bicentennial Society. The name was changed two years later.
Kline was one of the founding fathers, along with Virginius Dabney, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who was a longtime editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
From the beginning, the society has had headquarters in a late-19th-century building on the southwest corner of First and Main streets in downtown Richmond. The building was also the home of the Morrison and Kline public-relations firm until it folded.
Kline grew up in Dixon, Ill., a small town about 90 miles due west of Chicago. One of the town's claims to fame is that Ronald Reagan spent part of his youth living there.
After graduating from Beloit College in Wisconsin in 1943, Kline was commissioned an officer in the Navy. While stationed in Norfolk, he met Jean Pollard, who became his wife.
After World War II, the couple wound up in Richmond, where Kline worked as a reporter for the city's afternoon newspaper, The Richmond News Leader.
He was called back to active duty for the Korean War in the early 1950s. When that ended, he eventually returned to Richmond to work for an advertising agency.
Although the U.S. Historical Society has been a fixture in Richmond for 30 years, many people know little or nothing about it.
"Our main focus is historical education," said Marty Moran, the society's president.
The society produces and sells miniature figures and dolls of historical figures, and reproductions of historical items such as Thomas Jefferson's telescope, the sword George Washington had at his first inauguration, and the pistols used by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in their duel, in which Hamilton was mortally wounded.
The society has nonprofit status because it donates part of its proceeds to other nonprofit organizations.
"One of our longest-running associations has been with the Boy Scouts," Moran said.
Some years ago, the society donated nearly $55,000 to Special Olympics International. The money was raised by selling items commemorating the 100th anniversary of golf in America.
Once the Lincoln statue is in place, Kline wants to consider the possibility of creating another statue with a Civil War theme that could be placed at Tredegar.
"I really think it would be nice to have a statue of a Union soldier and a Confederate soldier facing each other and maybe shaking hands," he said.
OK, SO WE Southerners are not good losers. Stafford High School student Javier Aponte wrote a letter to the editor this week wondering why so many of his classmates choose to wear T-shirts and baseball caps and "'do rags" adorned with the Confederate flag.
" Let's face it," Javier wrote, "that flag didn't stand for things that are the greatest."
He's concerned that this fashion statement could hurt the feelings of some wimps worried about the symbolism of the Rebel flag. These weenies are put off by the idea that if the South had won the war, manual labor and household help would be much cheaper. Well, actually, it would be free.
This is, after all, the 21st century, Javier wrote. The last time Javier checked his history book, the Civil War was fought in the 19th century. And, as Javier--who is a credit to the Stafford school system--points out, the South lost.
Javier, Javier, Javier.
If you don't like it here, why don't you move to a state in the Union?
Just kidding, Javier.
But really, it's rude to remind us that we came up a little short back in 1865.
Besides, it's not important whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. So what if we were using slaves to do the work back home while Johnny Reb went out to fight? Didn't Gen. Robert E. Lee cut a dashing figure? And how about that Rebel yell? Woooo! WOOOOOO!!
I mean, so what if to hundreds of millions of people here and around the world, the Confederate flag stands for buying and selling human beings? It's our heritage, baby. Woooo! WOOOOO!!
Anyway, if it's sensitivity Javier is looking for, he'd better think about living in Vermont, not Virginia.
Because if anyone thought that two world wars, Korea and Vietnam might have shaken the Old Dominion's allegiance to the Confederacy, they can forget it. And if anyone thought all those American flag decals that appeared on pickup trucks following Sept. 11 meant that the Confederate flag had been eclipsed, they can forget that, too.
Nearly 140 years after the end of the Civil War, there's a controversy broiling over a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln and son Tad that's supposed to be unveiled at the Civil War Visitor Center of the National Park Service in Richmond in April.
The event will mark the 138th anniversary of a visit to the capital of the Confederacy by Lincoln and his son, five days before the end of the Civil War. At the time, the city was still smoldering after being abandoned in flames by Southern forces. Lincoln was assassinated 10 days later.
The head of the United States Historical Society, which commissioned the statue, has said it reunites "a national hero, a small boy, and a beautiful city," according to The Associated Press.
But a group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans has said the idea is "a slap in the face" to those who fought against Lincoln's "invasion of Virginia."
Some might dismiss that as isolated, nut-job extremism.
But it's not.
On Friday, a whopping 67 percent of 35,000 Virginians responding to an online poll by the Virginian Pilot opposed the Lincoln statue being installed in Richmond.
OK, Javier. We know what you're thinking. Yes, Lincoln may have been our greatest president. Yes, he gave his life for his country. Yes, it IS the 21st century. And yes, we're about to go to war as a nation, together, both North and South.
But do you really expect us to just sit idly by while a 2-ton Lincoln with brass knuckles invades Richmond?
If we don't hold the line in Richmond, the next thing you know, there will be statues of Franklin D. Roosevelt in Charlottesville and John F. Kennedy in Fredericksburg.
Whatever the cost may be, we shall fight the Yankee statues on the beaches; we shall fight them in the parks and on the streets. And we shall never, ever surrender.
MICHAEL ZITZ is a staff writer for the Life section. You can write to him c/o The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401; send e-mail to email@example.com; or call 374-5408.
Well, letter writers to the RTD have been quite irate about this the past couple days!