Alabama leader brings stark reminder of past lynchings as senators debate increased protections for Confederate monuments
Published 9:02 am Wednesday, March 11, 2020
The Alabama Senate on Tuesday delayed a vote on increased protections for Confederate monuments after an African American lawmaker threatened a filibuster and said the memorials celebrate a time when African Americans were enslaved and lynched.
Senators began debate on a bill that would increase the penalties for violating the 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act from a flat $25,000 to $5,000 per day. State Sen. Rodger Smitherman, an African American legislator from Birmingham, brought a thick rope on to the floor of the Alabama Senate, as he said the monuments commemorate a time of racial terror, including lynching, for African Africans.
“This is 2020. When are we as a state going to get past this stuff? Please, tell me,” Smitherman said. “I tell (people) Alabama has changed and then we do this kind of stuff.”
Republican Sen. Gerald Allen, the bill’s sponsor, agreed to carry the bill over until another time so that other bills could be voted on Tuesday. Allen said the monuments tell a part of the state’s history.
“How can we tell a complete story if we start removing history,” Allen told reporters after the Senate adjourned for the day.
The debate comes as Alabama’s largest city faces a fine for blocking the view of a Confederate monument that stands in a city park. A judge has fined Birmingham $25,000 for erecting a wooden box obscuring the inscriptions on a 52-foot (16-meter) obelisk honoring Confederate veterans.
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 law doesn’t specifically mention Confederate monuments, but it was enacted as some Southern states and cities began removing monuments and emblems of the Confederacy.
Allen, who sponsored the 2017 law, has said there’s a need to clarify what the fine is for violating the law.
The fine against Birmingham was levied after the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the 2017 state law.
Smitherman suggested the monuments could be moved to a designated area in another location for people to view.
Smitherman said the first bill was like “throwing mud in your face” but the latest bill is like “taking the mud and squishing it around in your face.”