MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama Department of Archives and History issued a rare memo Tuesday, recommitting its mission of portraying the full history of slavery and systemic racism.
“Our country is in the middle of some very difficult but important discussions about race, the justice system and history”, stated Steve Murray, Director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History. “History has suddenly become a central point in those discussions.”
Murray’s public memo also acknowledged a number of truths backed by historic records that show systemic racism is still a reality.
“We felt that it was important to make a statement that serves as something of a framing device for saying here’s some important beliefs that we have and acknowledge, some things that we value, and this informs our contribution to the conversation moving forward.”
The statement cited the government along with private institutions perpetuated systemic racism and discrimination against racial minorities to give the white majority the upper hand. It even admitted the department, in part, was created to preserve Confederate history.
“I think it can be very helpful to acknowledge some basic facts and it was important for us as an agency to make an acknowledgement of how our agency, a century ago, was involved in preserving some portions of our history while really intentionally excluding others”, Murray admitted. “We’ve been working for a long time now trying to correct that position and to try to tell a fully inclusive history.”
The historical accuracy of this period has been clouded by the “Lost Cause”, an ideology that justified the cause of the Confederacy and the Civil War. It’s a flawed and distorted account of history that was taught after Reconstruction in communities and schools across the country.
“It takes time for something that was that significant and an interpretation that was that influential to be redirected and informed by new scholarship and records we didn’t have before”, explained Murray.
The department is working to ensure historically accurate information is available to the public to provide relevant context for many of the circumstances society is dealing with today.
“That’s why we feel it’s especially important for us to be at the table in this conversation because we’ve got the materials that actually document what happened in the past”, stated Murray. “We think we can help use those in a way that is productive and positive and try to create an environment where people can have good, productive conversations.”
That history will show that despite the advancements of civil rights, blatantly racist systems still exist today.
“It’s not like flipping a light switch, things don’t change instantly”, he stated. “It has taken generations for Americans to move into the post-segregation world. The effects of those previously, thoroughly racist practices, whether it’s housing or access to education or job discrimination, those don’t go away overnight. When we talk about that legacy of systemic racism, it’s an acknowledgement that those have lasting effects that sometimes span multiple generations.”
The ADAH remains closed to the public due to the pandemic, however you can find a wealth of their resources on this topic online: