Kim Chandler, Associated Press, February 6, 2022
Alabama welcomes visitors at the “First White House of the Confederacy,” a historic home next to the state Capitol where Confederate President Jefferson Davis lived with his family in the early months of the Civil War.
The museum managed by the state’s Department of Finance says it hosts nearly 100,000 people a year, many of them school children on field trips to see such things as the “relic room” where Davis’ slippers and pocket watch are preserved. Near the gift shop, a framed article describes Davis as an American patriot who accomplished “one of the most amazing feats in history” by keeping the “north at bay for four long years.”
Evelyn England, an African-American woman, worked for 12 years as a receptionist at the historic site, said some visitors, both Black and white, were surprised to see her there.
“I’m in a unique position because whites don’t really want me here, and Blacks don’t want to come here,” England told The Associated Press.
England, 62, retired this week from the $34,700 state job, and it wasn’t the friendliest of departures: State records show she was suspended for three days last month for refusing to sign a performance review, and she said she filed a racial discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A spokeswoman said the Department of Finance declined to comment on the personnel matter.
After all those years working among the Davis family’s furniture and belongings, England wishes the museum would take a broader view of history. That slavery was a catalyst for the Civil War “is sort of stated around,” she said.
Explanatory displays at the museum, where the first Confederate flag still flies outside, mostly discuss the furnishings and how rooms were used, and make little to no mention of slavery, which Davis promoted as “a moral, a social and a political blessing.”
The residence was salvaged over a century ago by The White House Association, a state-chartered women’s organization that still owns its contents and remains involved, even as Finance Department employees staff the site. The legislature mandated in a 1923 law that the state-owned building serve as a “reminder for all time of how pure and great were southern statesmen and southern valor.”
It would be better, England believes, if the historic site was managed by the Department of Archives and History.
The museum’s curator, Bob Wieland, said Friday that he would ask the board to respond to questions about how the museum is run, but he doesn’t think the museum depicts an overly rosy view of Davis.
The museum has made some changes over the years. She said there once was an area called a “shrine” to Davis. The gift shop stopped selling Confederate flags, except for stickers of the design that was used when the Confederate capital was in Montgomery.
“They have taken steps. It might be baby steps,” she said.