Alabama Spends More than a Half Million Annually on a Confederate Memorial; Black Historical Sites StruggleBreaking News
tags: memorials, Alabama, Confederacy, public history
Down a country road, past a collection of ramshackle mobile homes, sits a 102-acre "shrine to the honor of Alabama's citizens of the Confederacy."
The state’s Confederate Memorial Park is a sprawling complex, home to a small museum and two well-manicured cemeteries with neat rows of headstones — that look a lot like those in Arlington National Cemetery — for hundreds of Confederate veterans. The museum, which director Calvin Chappelle said has about 30,000 visitors a year, seeks to tell an “impartial” history of the Civil War.
The museum’s exhibits explain what the White Alabamians who took up the cause of the Confederacy felt was on the line — Alabama was 10th of the then 33 states in the value of livestock, seventh in peas and beans, and second in cotton production. The only hope to save its economic position, the exhibit quotes a former state governor as saying, was for it to secede from the union, and though not mentioned directly, maintain the bondage of hundreds of thousands of Black Americans.
On a recent morning, there was just one visitor on the property and he didn’t enter the museum.
There are scattered mentions of slavery throughout the displays, but for the most part the museum focuses on the story of Confederate soldiers on the battlefield, mostly highlighting the bravery they displayed and the principles they were fighting for. The exhibit quotes Confederates like E.S. Dargan, who said: “If the relation of master and slave be dissolved, and our slaves turned loose amongst us without restraint, they would either be destroyed by our own hands — the hands to which they look with confidence, for protection — or we ourselves would become demoralized and degraded.”
Chappelle explained that the purpose of the museum was to tell the stories of Confederate soldiers; visitors who want a fuller picture of Alabama’s racial history — slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement — would have to go elsewhere.
There are a number of museums that tell those stories spread across Alabama, but the Confederate Memorial Park is different. It is the only museum in the state that has a dedicated revenue stream codified in the state’s constitution. So while other museums struggle to keep their doors open, search for grants for funding and depend on volunteer staff, the Confederate Memorial Park is flush with cash. In 2020 alone, the park received $670,000 in taxpayer dollars. That’s about $22 per visitor and more than five times the $4 admission price for adults.
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