Schooling. Medicaid. Public Transportation. Those pennies off the dollar that you pay in state taxes go towards an awful lot of positive programs.
Residents in Alabama are finding out, however, that they are sparing a chunk of change in the form of a property tax each year that goes towards a rather unexpected charity — keeping the dream of the Confederacy alive and well.
Alabama lawmakers initiated a property tax in the early twentieth century to help finance Civil War vets that fought for the Confederate States of America. You remember the Confederacy, right? They were the slave loving, secession threatening bad boys of the south that flied their Stars and Bars flag high as Union troops squashed them to the ground during the 1860s. Well, when 60,000 of those rabble-rousing rebels returned to the Heart of Dixie at the end of the war, folks started forking over a tax that funded the Alabama Confederate Soldiers’ Home. There, for barely three decades, the state assisted with ailing soldiers who fought for the south and lost.
A century and a half after the start of the Civil War — and 72 years since the Confederate Soldiers’ Home closed its doors —residents in Alabama are still paying the property tax that goes towards the house. Most, however, are unaware of it.
Decades after the Soldiers’ Home was demolished, today tax revenue goes towards the Confederate Memorial Park in Mountain Creek, AL, a 102-acre plot of green that sits where the old folks’ home once did. That revenue today amounts to around $400,000, a sizeable chunk of the $1.8 billion that the state operates with. In 2011, the budget for the park actually totaled over $540,000, taking into account funds carried over from years prior.
Confederate Memorial Park was established in the 1960s to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the Civil War. Historians note that the current tax structure in the state of Alabama was outlined in their 1901 Constitution and aimed to keep power in the hands of the wealthy and white, reports The Associated Press.
The opening of the park in 1964 came only a year after Governor George Wallace tried to keep black students from attending the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Later that year a Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan, causing the death of four children. That was the same year that civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Birmingham for participating in a non-violent protest against racial segregation.
But buried nine miles off of I-65 in central Alabama is Mountain Creek’s luscious and lavish park, which also holds a Civil War museum that has been in operation since 2007. 10,000 visitors drop by each year, but elsewhere in Alabama, privately-funded landmarks face shut-downs as a lack of state-sanctioned funding threatens closures, reports the AP. Fort Gaines and the home of Helen Keller are both considering boarding up their doors, all the while the shrine to the Confederacy is being funded by homeowners across the state.
Park director Bill Rambo tells the AP that the peoples-funded park is praised by those across the state.“Everyone is jealous of us,” he says.
State Rep. Alvin Holmes, a black Democrat, had thought that funding for the park had been eradicated ages ago. “We should not be spending one nickel for that,” he tells the AP. “I’m going to try to get rid of it.”
In the meantime, pennies on the dollar are helping pave the highways in Hackleburg, teach the children the Tuskegee, and, down in Mountain Creek, making sure the residents don’t forget that a quarter of a million Confederate soldiers died trying to keep slavery thriving.