MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A lot is said about the price people paid to make history. There is also a price to pay to keep that history alive.
The On Your Side Investigators take us to the Alex Haley museum in Henning, Tenn., where they’re fighting to preserve memories of one of this world’s greatest authors.
A trip to the Alex Haley Museum State Historic Site takes you down a lot of country roads, but those who live here say it’s worth the one hour drive from Memphis.
Henning Vice Mayor Quenton Reed said, “It’s history”.
Roots author Alex Haley sold his boyhood home to the state for $1 in 1985.
Tennessee turned it into a museum and historic site, which guarantees state funding. Now the state pays about $50,000 a year to keep it open.
Those who run the museum say $50,000 is not enough. They need more.
Alex Haley’s boyhood home, which was built in 1919, is on a solid foundation, but it’s starting to show its wear and tear and there’s no money to fix it up.
The museum, which now includes an interpretive center built in 2010, gets about 5,000 visitors a year. The day we were there, only three came through the doors. One man from Germany, and Pledger Day and his wife from New York.
“Roots, the mini-series, allowed many individuals throughout the United States to understand the history of African-Americans coming here, as well as it stimulated many Americans to find out about their family origins,” said Day.
Its rural Tennessee location is a big part of this museum’s history, but it’s also one of the challenges to making it successful.
The Beacon Center of Tennessee, an agency that studies government spending, suggests private donors and an increase in the museum’s $6 admission is the answer, not giving it more taxpayer money.
“Private donations are far more secure and consistent and while they might be harder to obtain than one big government check every year, there are private donors who will support these causes year after year,” said Justin Owen, president and CEO of The Beacon Center of Tennessee.
Owen also says taxpayers in different parts of Tennessee who’ll never travel to Henning shouldn’t be made to pay for it. He says the same goes for museums in east and middle Tennessee.
However, those who live here and the visitors we talked to are convinced everyone is benefiting from the history at the Alex Haley home.
The Alex Haley museum is a bare bones operation. There are only two full-time employees, and the only maintenance employee is paid through another agency.
Other museums in the Mid-South getting state funds are the National Civil Rights Museum and Stax.
Stax gets $100,000 a year from the state. The Civil Rights Museum got $250,000 this year.