How a Confederate Navy Submarine Restoration Project Helped Black Colleges and Universities in South Carolina

The Hunley was a Confederate submarine which on February 17, 1864 sunk the USS Housatonic in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. This was the first time in history that a ship of any kind had been sunk by a submarine.

The Hunley herself also sank before reaching port after completing her successful mission. The ship was discovered by divers in 1995 and raised to the surface in 2000.

In 1997 South Carolina state senator Glenn F. McConnell estimated that it would cost between $5 million and $10 million to restore the ship and house it in an appropriate museum. McConnell said at the time that there were private donors prepared to finance much of the project.

McConnell is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and operates the CSA Galleries which is described as the largest Civil War memorabilia store in the nation. He also led the fight against efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol building. Because of his interest in Civil War history McConnell was appointed chair of the Hunley Commission which oversees the submarine’s restoration project. In 2000, after the submarine was raised and the remains of the eight crew members were recovered, McConnell gave the eulogy for the crew dressed in the uniform of a Confederate general.

In 2001 McConnell was installed as Senate Pro Tempore, a position in which he yields considerable power over the state’s purse strings.

Now an investigation by The State, the daily newspaper in Charleston, has determined that $97 million has been spent on the Hunley project and 85 percent of the costs have been borne by the taxpayers.

According to the analysis by The State, McConnell has been able to secure Senate funding for the project by supporting the pet projects of other senators. Due to the immense power he yields in the Senate chamber, few senators are willing to challenge him on appropriations for the Hunley project.

McConnell reportedly agreed to secure between $3 million and $5 million a year from state lottery proceeds to support South Carolina’s historically black colleges and universities. In return, the Black Caucus of the state legislature agreed to support McConnell’s Hunley restoration project. State senator Darrell Jackson told The State, “It was mutually understood we would respect each other’s passions and not try to derail them. It’s like, ‘Let him do his thing.’ He’s passionate about it. It’s not worth the scars.”