Update: Thanks, in part, to the attention of some of my dear readers and contributors, a local non-profit foundation has reaffirmed its commitment to funding field trips for any and all Rapides Parish public school students enrolled in Louisiana History.
Kudos to Mr. Genius, Mr. Crump, and General Jones.
I have written before about the good work of the people at the Louisiana History Museum. During the past two years, they’ve done a number of things to increase their visibility in the community, educating the public on our shared history.
Recently, Dale Genius, the museum’s executive director, collaborated with the local Historic Preservation Commission to produce a series of commercials for our government access television station; the commercials are essentially retrospectives on the buildings we have lost or destroyed throughout our young history.
It’s a devastating indictment of the culture of unchecked demolition.
On a side note, a few weeks ago, Daniel and I drove down to Lafayette with the Mayor for his presentation at the Louisiana chapter of the American Planning Association’s annual conference. Toward the end of the presentation, which can be downloaded here, the Mayor flipped through a series of photographs of the buildings we have destroyed in Alexandria. People were stunned. How could we do that to our city? (I’ve seen him present the same slides to a group here in Alexandria; it was interesting to hear the reaction of a group of professional planners who, for the most part, didn’t know much about Alexandria).
The building that houses the Louisiana History Museum was, thankfully, spared the wrecking ball. Before it was the museum, the building served as the main branch of the Alexandria Library. It was one of many libraries across the nation that was underwritten, in part, by Andrew Carnegie. (As I have written before, I think Alexandria should better capitalize on its name and dramatically improve its libraries, particularly the main branch).
Anyway, there’s a point to all of this: We have this great museum in Downtown Alexandria, and it needs to be supported, by the entire community.
No, I’m not talking about financial contributions to the museum, though I am certain Mr. Genius would not object.
The museum’s slogan is “Alexandria’s Best Kept Secret.” But it shouldn’t be a secret. Here’s what I’m suggesting: Educators, particularly junior high and high school history teachers, need to make the museum an integral part of their lesson planning on the American Civil War and/or Louisiana history. The museum’s website describes their exhibits:
Highlights of current displays include:
- Why there are no dinosaur bones found in Louisiana
- Louisiana under the rule of Spain, France and England
- Famous figures in Louisiana history
- The Louisiana Purchase
- Colonial Louisiana
- The American Revolution
- War between the North and South
- The timber industry
- Famous Central Louisiana plantations and buildings
- Central Louisiana Army camps during World War I
- The effect on Central Louisiana during World War II
- Politicians from the Central Louisiana area
- Central Louisiana in postcards
- Original, 200 year old, 1804 New York Herald newspaper that announces and details the Louisiana Purchase
- Detailed 1872 map of the city of Alexandria showing the names of owners of city property during that time period
And I bring this up for a reason: I recently learned that there’s very little funding available for field trips to the museum. It’s somewhat absurd that Alexandria has its very own history museum, filled to the brim with instructive exhibits, artifacts, and photographs, yet the museum remains our “best kept secret,” even to local educators.
Make the museum a mandatory field trip for all of those junior high students enrolled in Louisiana History and encourage high school teachers to take their students to the museum whenever they’re studying the American Civil War.
Simply by setting aside a couple of hundred dollars per trip, the museum’s doors could welcome thousands of students every year.
But it’s not simply about helping out a museum that primarily relies on a volunteer director and a small budget; it’s about affirming the importance of the history that binds us together.