The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Confederate flag down at ‘most ideologically important’ place in U.S.: Disney World

Epcot Center at Walt Disney World in 2003. (Anne McDonough/The Washington Post)

“The North can keep the United Nations,” libertarian columnist Ron Hart wrote in the Memphis Flyer in 2007, “and we in the South can learn about the rest of the world the way we always have — by visiting Epcot Center in Orlando.”

But those driving from South Carolina — where the legislature just voted to remove the Confederate flag from the State House — to Disney World looking for a dose of Southern heritage will be out of luck. The resort’s Epcot Center has removed a Confederate banner from the American Adventure, “a 30-minute stage show chronicling our illustrious past and boundless future through Audio-Animatronics, film and music,” as the resort put it.

[How South Carolina took the flag down]

“I think in this day and age we shouldn’t be promoting a part of our history we’re not proud of,” Sheri Labowski, a Connecticut tourist outside the American Adventure on Wednesday, told the Orlando Sentinel.

As when a bust of Bill Cosby was removed from a Disney park near Orlando earlier this week, Disney acknowledged it removed the flag, but did not comment further.

[Bill Cosby statue comes down at Disney park after drug revelations]

The American Adventure — where visitors are guided through U.S. history by Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain — is not totally silent on issues of slavery and civil rights. From Disney:

Twelve faux marble statues, 6 on either side of the 72-foot screen, embody the American ideals of Individualism, Innovation, Independence, Self-Reliance and more. Watch and see how these ideals precipitated key events like the landing of the Mayflower, the Boston Tea Party, the winter at Valley Forge, the penning of the Declaration of Independence, the Civil War, industrialization and the Great Depression. Along the way, you’ll also meet such luminaries as:

  • Susan B. Anthony
  • Alexander Graham Bell
  • Chief Joseph
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Will Rogers
  • Teddy Roosevelt

Disney’s version of history, of course, has been criticized before. Stephen M. Fjellman, a anthropology professor at Florida International University, took the park to task in 1992 in a landmark academic study “Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America.” Fjellman, who described Walt Disney World as “the most ideologically important piece of land in the United States,” called the park’s approach to history “essentially zany.”

“Abraham Lincoln’s speeches are mixed together,” he wrote. “Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain robots talk to each other about an American adventure in which barely related iconic images are surrounded by the silences of untold historical stories.”

Fjellman added: “As a Disney spokesperson explains the corporate approach to history, they are not telling history like it really was but as it should have been.”