By Patrice Stewart
DAILY Staff Writer
Recalling what families and fathers who became fighters went through during the Civil War is important to Kay McCarley.
"This is our heritage, and we feel it’s important to get the message out, although anything Confederate gets such bad press now," said McCarley, president of Joe Wheeler Chapter No. 291 of United Daughters of the Confederacy.
"This is not a racist organization, although many people try to make it out to be," she said. "Slavery may have been a part of the Civil War, but it was so much more than that.
"Most of them were just ordinary people," she said. "Ninety percent of the men who fought never owned a slave — they fought because we were invaded by the North, and they were fighting for their families and homes, not to own slaves."
McCarley, an 18-year member, said she has always been interested in history and her ancestors. Other local members range from a 17-year-old high school student to a woman in her 80s who joined 56 years ago.
"It’s a lineage society, and it’s difficult to get all the records for several generations," she said. They use military records, census records, birth and death certificates, marriage records and more. Some states have African-American members, she said, and the late Sen. Strom Thurmond’s daughter is completing her paperwork to join.
McCarley believes UDC may be the oldest women’s — or perhaps any type — organization in Decatur, since it has been meeting continually since 1899.
"We are not a do-nothing society," she said. "We honor all veterans."
In addition to fund-raisers over the past year to raise money for the new fence and historical marker dedicated Tuesday, they send money to support about nine daughters of Confederate veterans, including one in Russellville whom they take robes and lap blankets to when they visit.
The 55 members also take grooming items to the veterans’ nursing facility in Huntsville several times a year, send holiday gift items to active-duty troops, write historical articles for publication, award college scholarships and raise funds to help restore sites such as the Gen. Joe Wheeler home.