Bill slashing Alabama Archives funding over LGBTQ History program dead for session

It may return next legislative session, says sponsor

By: - July 24, 2023 7:01 am
A sign marking the Alabama Department of Archives and History stands outside the main archives building, a neo-classical structure.

The Alabama Department of Archives and History, as seen on February 8, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

A bill that would have removed $5 million from the Alabama Department of History and Archives died in committee during last week’s special session.

The bill, SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, would have moved the $5 million from the Archives budget to the University of South Alabama in retaliation for the department hosting a June presentation on LGBTQ history in Alabama. The legislation died in committee last week.

“It did not get a committee hearing on Tuesday, and that math just doesn’t work,” Elliott told reporters Thursday.


The bill was intended to send a message, according to Elliott. He said he thinks that the message was received.

“Just very simply that Archives and History needs to listen to legislators and appropriators about what kind of programming they have,” Elliott said.

The legislation came after a presentation last month at the Archives that was put on by the Invisible Histories Project, a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization that preserves LGBTQ+ history in the South.

The presentation included stories of prominent LGBTQ+ Alabamians and events in the state’s history. The presentation is part of a running lunchtime lecture series hosted by the Archives called “Food for Thought.” The list of lectures was published on Jan. 11.

Maigen Sullivan, co-founder of the organization and the presenter, was not available for comment. A message has also been left with the organization.

Some legislators felt that the presentation overstepped the mission of the Archives, and contacted Murray ahead of the program. In the days following the presentation, Elliott told the Reflector that he didn’t think sex, including heterosexual sex, should be discussed in the government building.

In a letter sent to legislators last week, Murray wrote that he spoke with nine legislators ahead of the presentation. He wrote that the lectures are advertised for adults, not children. The direct costs were paid for with grant money from the Alabama Humanities Alliance.

Murray wrote that the program was aligned with the department’s mission as defined in Alabama state law (“the diffusion of  knowledge in reference to the history and resources of the state”). 

“It examined primary source documents to find what they reveal about the interests and motivations of groups that were active decades ago, and it discussed the limitations of historical evidence for understanding the lives of people in the past,” he wrote. “This approach used basic tools of historical inquiry that can be applied to any topic, and which are routinely applied in Food for Thought presentations.”  

In 2020, the department announced a recommitment effort to telling the stories of all Alabamians, rather than just white ones. The second director of the Archives, Marie Bankhead Owens, was a white supremacist who promoted the Lost Cause history of the Civil War, neglecting other voices in the process.

Other topics in the Food for Thought series include football fight songs, black bears and family dynamics in Confederate Alabama. 

Murray wrote that the funds’ use would include a new children’s gallery, redesign of their Indigenous content, military history exhibit and updates to their Museum of Alabama exhibit. It also updates the “Alabama Voices” exhibit.

Murray wrote to the Reflector on Friday that “ADAH will be prepared before and during the regular session to share with members additional information on the work of the Archives and to answer any questions they may have.”

Elliott said to reporters that he expects more legislation on the topic in the regular session that begins February.

“I expect that there will be significant legislation in the regular session coming up in February that deals with Archives and History, the makeup of their board, how their board is appointed, and dives deeper into their programming,” he said. “Oh, and in the budget.”

Elliott said that the University of South Alabama designation was a “placeholder.” He said he had amendments ready with other requests, “like any other appropriation.”

“Although South Alabama does do some great work when it comes to fisheries research,” he said.


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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.