Alabama’s Attorney General announced Wednesday that his office has filed suit against the City of Birmingham and Mayor William Bell for putting barriers around the Confederate monument in Linn Park on Tuesday night.
“In accordance with the law, my office has determined that by affixing tarps and placing plywood around the Linn Park Memorial such that it is hidden from view, the Defendants have ‘altered’ or ‘otherwise disturbed’ the memorial in violation of the letter and spirit of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall in a press release.
The Alabama Memorial Preservation Act was passed to prevent communities from addressing racially insensitive memorials, symbols, and monuments after Alabama removed the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds in 2015, following the killings of African American worshippers in a Charleston church by a young white man who embraced Confederate iconography.
The unprecedented law prohibits the “relocation, removal, alteration, renaming, or other disturbance of” any Confederate or other monument that is at least 40 years old. Alabama’s Republican-controlled state legislature passed it over the strenuous opposition of African American lawmakers who objected that the monuments honor the shameful legacy of slavery, and Governor Kay Ivey signed it into law in May.
The Confederate Soldiers & Sailors Monument in Linn Park was commissioned by the Pelham Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and dedicated in 1905. In 2015, Birmingham’s park board approved a resolution to remove the 52-foot-tall monument. A private organization, “Save Our South,” filed a lawsuit to prevent the removal; the suit was dismissed.
On Friday night, white nationalists, including members of the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazi groups, traveled from across the country to Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park. A woman was killed and more than 19 people were injured Saturday when a man drove a car through a crowd of people who were protesting against the neo-Nazis and white nationalists.
On Tuesday, Birmingham City Council President Johnathan Austin publicly asked Mayor Bell to defy state law and remove the monument:
[M]ore than 50 years ago in a cell just a few blocks from where we sit today, Dr. (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) instructed us on the importance of identifying and defying unjust laws. In a letter from the Birmingham jail, he advised us, ‘Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.’ There is nothing more degrading than slavery, or the rejection of the fundamental principle that all men are created equal. The so-called ‘lost cause’ of the Confederacy degraded African Americans and any celebration of that gives life to that cause. I call on Mayor Bell to reject the degradation of the citizens he was elected to serve. Mr. Mayor, tear down those statues.
Mayor Bell ordered the covering of the Confederate monument on Tuesday afternoon and city workers set up plywood around it later that night.
The lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday afternoon in Jefferson County Circuit Court, asks the court to declare that the city has violated state law and impose a $25,000 fine for each day the monument is covered.
Mayor Bell said in a statement, “We look forward to the court system clarifying the rights and power of a municipality to control its parks absent state intervention.”