Alabama mayor criticizes state law protecting Confederate monuments

Published 5:06 pm Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The mayor of Birmingham on Tuesday criticized an Alabama law forbidding the majority-black city from removing or altering a Confederate monument as well as a new proposal to fine cities $10,000-a-day for violations.

“We’re saying protect something that is a slap in the face to black residents of this city, that are 74% of this city, the fourth blackest city in America. You want to have a statue that is commemorating relegating black people to being property and slaves,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin told reporters.

Birmingham faces a $25,000 fine for erecting a wooden box obscuring the inscriptions on a 52-foot (16-meter) obelisk honoring Confederate veterans. The mayor made the comments in Birmingham on the same day lawmakers in Montgomery debated a proposal to increase the fines for violating the law.

Senators on Tuesday delayed a committee vote on legislation that would increase the penalties for violating the 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act by raising fines to $10,000-a-day. But the bill would also give communities the opportunity to request a waiver from the prohibition on moving monuments that have been standing for more than 40 years.

“It’s important to protect the heritage and history of this great state,” Republican Sen. Gerald Allen, the bill’s sponsor, said.

Allen, who sponsored the 2017 law, said there’s a need to clarify what the fine is for violating the law. Allen said the bill allows a new opportunity for communities to seek a waiver from a state committee in order to move monuments more than 40 years old. Previously, there was a flat prohibition.

The Alabama Supreme Court upheld the 2017 state law and ordered a judge to fine Birmingham $25,000 for violating it. Birmingham has so far left up the panels around the monument which stands in a city park.

Woodfin said the proposal to increase the penalties feels targeted at Birmingham. Allen said the bill was not targeted at the city. He said the new waiver process would allow communities to express their concerns.

“How can you tell the complete story by taking away, whitewashing something, when really you can learn something from it,” Allen said.

The 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act currently prohibits relocating, removing, altering or renaming public buildings, streets and memorials that have been standing for more than 40 years.

The legislation doesn’t specifically mention Confederate monuments, but it was enacted as some Southern states and cities began removing monuments and emblems of the Confederacy.