by Laura Camper
Oct 24, 2010
Moving forward with plans to organize a civil rights museum, the city
of Anniston is looking into establishing an office at the city-owned
Project Pay Building on 13th and Moore for former councilwoman Debra
Foster to head the effort.
At its Oct. 12 informal meeting, Councilman Ben Little, who has been
spearheading the project, brought up a discussion of creating the office.
"I'm very hopeful that we can get started on building that next
year," Little told the other councilmen during the meeting.
Little campaigned on creating the museum in 2008, a project which
Foster, his opponent in the election, has been trying to get off the
ground for years, she said.
"I think history is so important," Foster said. "Anniston has a lot
of rich history that needs to be recorded and remembered not for
the sake of dwelling on the (negative), but dwelling on the fact that
we know where we come from and to show how progressive the community
has been in eradicating injustices."
She is not an expert on building museums, but she lived the civil
rights movement in Anniston, and under the tutelage of Rev. John
Nettles, her pastor, has worked in the movement since she was in high
school. She remembers protesting on downtown Noble Street because
merchants weren't hiring black employees.
"We live in a society that is not free from racism and all of us at
some point has to deal with racism in some form or fashion," Foster
said. "My involvement came so early because I was under the auspices
of Dr. John S. Nettles who had a love for people, all people, and for
dealing with unfair practices."
Foster sees the museum documenting not simply local civil rights
events, but also the broader movement. Little sees the museum as a
kind of introduction to the local sites important in the movement,
such as the site of the infamous burning of the Freedom Riders' bus.
To bring those visions to reality, the city will need a plan, which
has yet to be created, along with money and lots of it. Little
estimates it will cost between $6 million and $7 million by the time
the museum is finished.
So far, although the council members have granted Little's requests,
the city hasn't invested a lot of money.
At its March 9 meeting, the council allocated $5,000 to create a
video archive of recollections by people who witnessed the civil
rights movement in Anniston, which will eventually be part of the
museum. Little also has requested the council allocate $75,000 seed
money to organize the museum. The council decided to appropriate $40,000.
That is far from the dollars it will take to get the museum from the
planning stages to reality, but Little believes the city should
commit to the project at least in a show of fairness.
"If the city of Anniston can build two museums from public funds
not one, two, two museums from public funds and after building
those two museums, fund to the tune of $525,000 to $550,000 a year
plus," Little said. "Then the black community should have a museum, a
civil rights museum-institute in Anniston."
Alabama has a rich legacy of the civil rights movement and Anniston
had a hand in that, he said, and it's important to educate people
about it. The museum would also be an important addition to the local
offerings, he said, as it would create a package of entertainment he
believes is unrivaled in the South.
The local museums, the Chief Ladiga Trail, local golf courses all
together in one location have the potential to bring tourists into
the area for vacations and extended weekend stays.
However, although Little has been actively promoting the museum, it's
still in the very early planning stages, and that's worrying
Councilman John Spain. He asked at the meeting about specific plans
for the museum.
"My intent was to use this entire amount of money strictly for
planning and then be able to put together the money for a
full-fledged implementation once we had a plan," Spain said.
Foster would be the one working on creating that plan, Little said,
noting that the botanical garden now in development near Anniston's
other museums already has a board behind it.
"We need something for her to start pulling information together to
get to the council and things of that nature," Little said. "That's
what this is about."
But Spain was not convinced. He asked about having someone with
experience create the plan.
"What I was hoping we could do with a good deal of this money is find
someone that had experience with this before, who knew just exactly
how to put together strategic plans, do a rendering of the place,"
Spain said. "So that, when we went through this money we would have a
strategic plan, something that was ready to be implemented and go to
Little mentioned that Foster would be contacting Dr. Lawrence
Pijeaux, the director of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, to
request he act as consultant on the museum. She also would be
applying for a grant in January to help fund the project, Little said.
The council did appoint Foster, but she is still waiting for the
go-ahead to get started.
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.