National Underground Railroad Freedom Center may close doors

When Attorney General Eric Holder spoke  recently at Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on the historic struggle to preserve voting rights, the institution’s dire financial straits had not yet been announced.

Yet the Freedom Center may have to close its doors due to a lack of funding, according to USA Today.  With a $1.5 million deficit the historic landmark established in 1994 will run out of operating funds by the end of the year.

The museum’s “budget has been cut from $12.5 million in 2004 to $4.6 million in 2011, and its workforce from 120 to 34 full-time employees,” said USA Today.

The Freedom Center will receive only “$250,000 from the Department of Education, no state money, no city or county money either” writes Cincinnati’s local Channel 12 television station.

Right wing groups have been attacking the center’s funding sources, insisting it not receive federal, state or local monies. “Heavy investment of government money has made the Freedom Center a popular target of local anti-tax groups, primarily the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), led by Cincinnati attorney Christopher Finney.”

Ohio is facing an $8 billion budget deficit brought about by the recession. State Republicans led by Gov. John Kasich have sought to balance the budget on the backs of the state’s workers and poor.

Nationally, museums have been taken severe cuts due to the recession.  “Public funding for U.S. museums dropped to an average of 17% of total museum revenue in 2010, down from 24% in 2008, according to a survey released in December by the American Association of Museums.”

Ohio voters traditionally supported museums and libraries particularly with local levies. ‘Ohio voters, as usual, approved 77 percent of the public library issues on the November 8 ballot, including 12 of 17 new library levies, four renewal levies, and two replacement levies. However, this success rate may inadvertently be spurring reduced allocations to the state Public Library Fund (from 1.97 percent of tax revenue to 1.67 percent) for the next biennial state budget (July 2011 through June 2013).”

Republicans have used local levy support as an excuse to cut state funding.

Attempting to bounce back from a huge defeat on Senate Bill 5, Kasich who recently spoke at business gathering at the Freedom Center, will deliver a state of the state address in Stubenville on Tuesday.  A large protest is expected.

Efforts are now being undertaken to diversify the Freedom Center’s funding. While devoted to the Underground Railroad, the museum also highlights other civil rights struggles, including human trafficking today. Currently a new exhibit focuses on school desegregation efforts in South Carolina.

Photo: Metro bus became a giant canvas for these young artists at Freedom Fest at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Metro Cincinnati // CC 2.0



Joe Sims
Joe Sims

Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA. He is also a senior editor of People's World and loves biking.