Our history is far too valuable

Published 12:33 am Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A widow was going through her husband’s papers shortly after her husband’s death. She found a couple of old certificates, yellowed with age and crumbling into dust. They had been made out to her husband more than 50 years ago, and seemed to be some kind of promissory notes.

Some company had written out these certificates and they seemed to indicate that her husband had invested $5,000 before they were married. She read them over a couple of times but she didn’t really understand all of the legal jargon. After considering their age, the fact they were buried at the bottom of his desk drawer, and that he had never said anything about them, she concluded they were worthless papers and simply threw them into the garbage.

A couple of weeks later her lawyer called asking about other assets to be dealt with in the estate. The lawyer asked, “Did your husband have any investments? Did he lend any money to anyone?” She told the lawyer about the papers she had tossed in the trash. Guess what? With 50 years of accumulated interest, the widow had trashed well over $30,000. When we don’t know the value of an object and destroy it, it leads to major regret. Sooner or later we discover just how valuable it was.

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This was the same mentality exemplified last week as House Bill 54 was debated on the floor.

This bill is being called the “Finders Keepers” Bill. This bill makes it possible for anyone from anywhere to remove artifacts from state waters, in particular the state waters that flow through Dallas County.

A tremendous amount of our heritage is at stake such as artifacts from Native American sites, the Selma Arsenal site and many other isolated relics. The bill makes special provision for protecting shipwrecks and burial sites, but how will looters know what type of site they are on? Go figure.

Even worse, behind this bill are a small group of divers who want to dig up the remains of the Selma Arsenal that were dumped in the Alabama River in order to hide them from Union Soldiers. These private collectors from around the country are already buzzing with anticipation and waiting for an opportunity to loot Alabama’s rich history.

There were several attempts made to keep divers’ findings within the state of Alabama, but the sponsor argued there are no museums to hold these artifacts. But we all know that locally we have the Old Depot Museum where we can tell the story of Selma’s history.

This bill is only an attempt to allow private collectors to loot for their own personal collections instead of making underwater cultural resources available for public view. This bill places Alabama at a major disadvantage. It may even result in us having to pay one of these private collectors for our own history.

We cannot afford to give Alabama’s history away.