New Press on Alabama HB-104

Here is an article, as well as some opinions & rebuttals from this week's newspapers. We've also added a couple more emails from concerned Alabamians over HERE

Please call your state senators & ask them to support Alabama HB-104!

YOUR VIEWS: Bill puts Selma's, Alabama's Civil War artifacts at risk

YOUR VIEW: Alabama divers owed an apology 

 Ms. Nancy Smith says looters are "stealing Selma's war heritage and the sites and river bottoms..."

What hokum.  Those civil war artifacts have been underwater since April 1865.  During that time, not once have the people of Selma or the people of Alabama tried to recover anything.  In the meantime, iron still rusts and wood still rots.  But for the divers nothing would ever be recovered or preserved.  I note that Ms Smith is president of the "Selma-Dallas County Historic Preservation Society".  I wonder if she or her organization have ever recovered or preserved anything from the river in Selma?  Or, is their definition of preservation to let it rust and rot away so that no one ever gets to see it? 

Who is the criminal?  The diver who recovers and preserves, or the sanctimonious whiners who say "Leave it on the bottom of the river?"

I am a lawyer and was honored to represent that fine man she refers to as a criminal.  We need more like him.

Erskine Mathis - Birmingham
1)      People who have bad arguments resort to name calling
2)      Fact that Steve had to go through trial and was convicted of a misdemeanor for removing a rusted musket from the river bottom points out the need for this clarification.  People (and law enforcement) shouldn’t have to wonder what is legal and what is not

3)      She forgot to mention that Steve was acquitted of all charges related to the cultural resources act (and this bill is an amendment to that act)

4)      She is wrong about what this bill does; it makes it clear that the same conduct which is legal in most states is legal in Alabama and does not remove protection for legitimate cultural resources.  It just makes it clear that isolated finds in navigable rivers, not part of shipwrecks or historical sites, can be removed by divers who find them.
Am  I right about all this?

From Birmingham

Your newspaper recently published an opinion letter indicating opposition to HB 104 – The Alabama Underwater Cultural Resources Act.  This opinion tells the other side of the story.

By way of introduction I am a native of Selma and have devoted the past 7½ years full time to a detailed study of her history and the artifacts associated with her part in “that war”.  The depth of my work has reached the point where there are few, if any, historians or archeologists who can claim a more detailed knowledge than can I about Selma.  There are references at all levels and of all disciplines available and who will support this claim.

In the first few months of my research much time was spent attempting to locate reference materials about Selma and any surviving artifacts.  Excepting Sol Teppers’ publications and some mid-century articles by the likes of Canfield, Rucker Agee, William Still, William Hoole and other local historians, there weren’t any serious works focused on Selma during that period.  Much of what had been written about Selma by others was sadly erroneous.  Few significant artifacts were available in public museums and little more data was available through our various archives.  Ironically, my first impression had been that the taking of artifacts without documentation was a mistake.  But only when my work became intensely serious did I realize that absent the people described as “looters” on these pages researchers such as I would have had little to write about.  It has been the “looters” – the divers, diggers, collectors and others so frequently spoken of with such contempt by the so-called professionals who have been the ones actually responsible for the very preservation the opponents of HB104 profess to protect.

Why?  Because not one dime has been spent by any agency of the city, county, state, regional agency or federal governments to study, survey, collect, conserve and/or present any relics from the river in Selma – there or anywhere else.  Today there is barely enough funding available to keep the doors open at our museums, historical sites and state archives around the state – sometimes then only with reduced hours & a skeleton staff.  NO MONEY is available today or “tomorrow” to do this work – and it would likely go undone in the future as it has in the past anyway – falling further and further behind in the hierarchy of “priorities” to American Indian sites and other material deemed more historically significant even though much of that emphasis dates to the mid-20th century or later.  Most relics of this period are iron although not all.  Iron is ferrous and will oxidize.  The ominous differences in condition between materials recovered 50 years ago versus just a few years ago clearly demonstrate that without a near-term recovery these relics of our past will be lost forever – slowly dissolving into pure rust while waiting for some governmental entity to decide that they are far enough up some “priority list” to warrant retrieval.

The recovery of this material by so-called amateurs over the past 50+ years is the very thing that has guaranteed that we will all have bona fide reference materials going forward.  All of the materials recovered to-date have, for the most part, made their way into collections.  Some fared better than others, but the people doing the collecting have shared generously with researchers over the years.  The result is that virtually all of the materials recovered have found their way, by example at least, into reference books that are now the primary sources for all researchers – “professional” and “amateur”.  And almost all of the authoritative references have been collected and compiled by the “amateurs”.  The so-called “professionals” have neither the time nor the depth of knowledge to give the recovered materials the attention required in order to be “authoritative”. So, absent the amateurs, who had for decades been diving and recovering artifacts from the river in Selma WITH the encouragement of city fathers, we, the true historians, would have nothing to write about.  No artifacts would be available for research by anyone and the history of Selma (particularly) would remain lost to time.

Support HB 104 if you want to continue to locate, conserve and present the history of the state to the people. Unaffected sections of the current law(s) suffice to protect war graves and other sites that all parties agree should be protected.  Do not be mislead by claims to the contrary!

Bill Lockridge - Mint Hill, NC
Selma Research Project