Alabama Department of Archives and History acknowledges decades of helping perpetuate systemic racism

Alabama Department of Archives and History acknowledges decades of helping perpetuate systemic racism
Crowd gathered in front of the Capitol for the inauguration of Governor William Brandon.

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WBRC) - The Alabama Department of Archives and History recently acknowledged and apologized for decades of helping perpetuate systemic racism by promoting Confederate narratives while ignoring those of Black people. In a “statement of recommitment,” the department said it “committed extensive resources to the acquisition of Confederate records and artifacts while declining to acquire and preserve materials documenting the lives and contributions of African Americans in Alabama.”

Now, in an apparently unrelated occurrence, vestiges from a bygone era are resurfacing in the Archives that document some of the state’s history of systemic racism. 

Newsletters from the former state agency that tried to discredit the civil rights movement and connect it to communist organizations are now available through the Department’s website. The State Sovereignty Commission was established by the Legislature in 1963 with the purpose “to safeguard those rights from encroachment by agencies of the federal government, and to preserve those rights necessary for the well-being and safety of its citizens and for the orderly conduct of government affairs.” Its duties included protecting the sovereignty of the state from “encroachment and usurpation” by the federal government and making special inquiries into means for protecting state’s rights.

Three issues of the Sovereignty Commission Bulletin were placed online as part of the department’s ongoing work to digitize a wide array of materials for improved access, Murray said recently. He said the commission’s records were not extensive.

The first issue of the bulletin in July 1968 focused on events in Washington,D.C. and riots that year following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. 

It quotes J. Edgar Hoover saying civil disobedience is a “pernicious doctrine which undermines respect for law and order.”

“We are living in an age when too many citizens are thinking about their ‘rights and privileges’ and too little about their duties and responsibilities.” 

A September 1968 issue focused on the Central Intelligence Agency as a financier of socialism and civil disobedience and implicated the agency in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy

In early 2019, the Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman wrote about the commission and an 1965 hour long film it created, “State of Alabama,”  “a bizarre and offensive mix of conspiracy theories, endless crowd shots and racist caricatures of prominent civil rights leaders, including Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Lyman wrote.

The State Sovereignty Commission was one of two civil rights-era organizations set up by state leaders to undermine the civil rights movement, Lyman reported.

Other Archives’ documents from the Commission include a telegraph from executive secretary Eli Howell to television executives at ABC, NBC and CBS in New York City, requesting that they run the documentary.

“During the month of March, your television network devoted several hours to the much-publicized Selma-Montgomery March, furnishing the instigators and promoters of that march with a nationwide forum,” Howell said.

The commission was terminated in 1978.

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