It took years of community outcry, the urging of a governor, being sued by the NAACP, and national media scrutiny for the Hanover County School Board to finally be shamed into voting to remove the names of Confederate treasonists from two schools’ monikers in 2020. Now, this same board is proposing that the one school in the district with a name representative of Black history and Black excellence be renamed, in a move that smells like spite and looks like a regression.
Last Tuesday, a packed School Board meeting saw over a dozen members of the public speak up about John M. Gandy Elementary School, an institution that was once one of the only schools for Black students in Hanover County. A new school building under construction on the current Gandy site that will replace Gandy and consolidate it with Henry Clay Elementary was slated to retain the school name at the project’s inception in 2018.
Back then, board members assured community members that they had no intention of removing Gandy’s name from the replacement school. What has changed since then?
Back then, board members assured community members that they had no intention of removing Gandy’s name from the replacement school. What has changed since then? Well, the board became embroiled in a firestorm over its refusal to change the Confederate school names starting in 2019.
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.
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.”
MOUNTAIN CREEK, Ala. – 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.