Harrisburg Mayor’s Cynical Exploitation of African-Americans

Mayor Eric Papenfuse’s personal vendetta against the National Civil War Museum may have taken an ugly and cynical turn, as he may have sent supporters out to masquerade as  protesters interested in overturning confederate iconography. See stories here, here, here, and here.

“The exhibit featured a gun owned by William Quantrill during the Civil War among other historical guns from gun manufacturers that are still in operation today. The exhibit also featured several special gowns from the Civil War era. Protestors said Quantrill’s gun was part of a ‘heritage of hate,’ and that the gun should only be displayed with proper context about Quantrill. Instead, the protesters said they thought the gun’s history was simplified and overlooked in favor of a pro-gun exhibit underwritten by a $25,000 grant from the NRA. ‘I don’t think the glorification of the heritage of the Confederacy does anybody any good,’ said Keith Bentz, a local activist who held a sign at the protest. ‘We are supposed to all be brothers and sisters. Let’s act like we’re brothers and sisters…Why constantly remind people of color. It’s just wrong.’ ”

Wayne Motts, CEO of the museum, responded. “Many items held and displayed here have a violent history. That is no different than a lot of other museums. Take for example the derringer which John Wilkes Booth used to assassinate President Lincoln held by the National Park Service and displayed at Ford’s Theater.”

Mayor Papenfuse, who is bitter because his boorish behavior resulted in the National Rifle Association giving a $25,000 grant to the museum instead of to Harrisburg, cynically tried to portray the museum as “selling out” to the NRA and its constituents. “Motts said Quantrill’s Colt revolver, which reportedly fell out of his pocket during the Kansas massacre, is no different than other artifacts and displays at countless other museums and historical repositories. The museum already owned the gun and it has been exhibited before. But the gun’s rollout in a partnership with the NRA was ‘particularly revolting,’ Papenfuse said, because the exhibit is a ‘sellout to modern day gun manufacturers.’ ”  Of course, had he received the NRA grant he wanted instead of the museum, I’m sure he would have said it was fine to take their money while they displayed their message at the Great American Outdoor Show.

Papenfuse next engages in complete dishonesty: “Papenfuse also said the Quantrill artifact is not properly contextualized in the exhibit. ‘Why are we celebrating the gun of a mass-murdering, racist sociopath?’ he said. ‘Cities from Baltimore to New Orleans are taking down their Confederate monuments. We are putting up new ones.’ ”

Here’s the flyer publicizing the new exhibit.


You can click on the image to see a larger version of it and see that Quantrill’s revolver is being displayed with a revolver that belonged to Union officer Benjamin Grierson and a rifle that had been presented to United States Secretary of War Simon Cameron.

Here’s the display. As you can see, it is properly contextualized and in no way celebrates Quantrill’s gun. First we see the case containing the weapon as a whole.


Next we see the three guns in the case.


Finally, a close-up of Quantrill’s handgun along with the identifying information.


“Motts said Quantrill’s gun was being shown along with other guns manufactured by Colt and four other manufacturers. The NRA-sponsored exhibit was intended to highlight guns used during the Civil War made by manufacturers that are still in business today. ‘Many of the firearms in this exhibition are identified to Union and Confederate soldiers, as well as prominent statesmen,’ he said ‘We are exhibiting weapons from both sides of the war as part of the presentation.’ The information presented with Quantrill’s gun doesn’t delve into details about the 1863 atrocity, Motts said. ‘We have identified the revolver for who owned the weapon and its significance,’ he said. ‘This is not an exhibition interpreting guerrilla warfare during the conflict so it is a simple label of identification.’ ” As you can see, Mr. Motts is telling the honest truth. As usual, Hizzoner is not.

Protesters showed up at the reception to open the exhibit. This, in my opinion, has nothing to do with protesting confederates and instead has everything to do with Papenfuse’s jealousy, anger, and embarrassment at losing a sizeable grant from the NRA and his long-running personal vendetta against history education in the form of the National Civil War Museum.

Kevin Levin is also covering this protest. See here.



  1. Mike Musick · · Reply

    The National Civil War Museum is one of Harrisburg’s gems, and deserves wider recognition, despite the controversy concerning its creation. Wayne Motts is a dynamic, welcoming, and capable CEO. What he and his staff have accomplished merit celebration, rather than condemnation and closure. The wiser course would be to highlight the museum’s potential as a tourist magnet and center for expanding historical understanding.

    1. I agree completely, Mike. The mayor is bent on obliterating a legacy of one of his political rivals, and he’s mad because the museum got the NRA grant and he didn’t. I see this as a tantrum on his part, with a cynical attempt to exploit genuine African-American concerns by trying to apply them to a place where they don’t apply.

  2. Shoshana Bee · · Reply

    Is the back story of the mayor’s vendetta etc well-known? It seems that if it is not, he could really manipulate the uninformed excessively to his advantage.

    1. It’s been reported, though I think we all know that what gets reported often also gets forgotten very quickly. 🙂

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