Just 1 lawsuit filed so far as Alabama’s monuments law tested

The Confederate monument in Birmingham's Linn Park has been fully removed.
The Confederate monument in Birmingham's Linn Park has been fully removed.(City of Birmingham)
Updated: Jun. 9, 2020 at 4:09 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - In the days following the death of George Floyd, a wave of anger and protests have, among other things, reignited passions for a particular cause: removal of Confederate monuments sprinkled across the Deep South.

A number of the century-old statues have come down around the South in recent years, but the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017 has stymied most local efforts.

It’s been the job of Alabama’s attorney general to enforce the controversial law, but it’s being tested on a growing number of fronts. Asked for reaction, spokesman Mike Lewis, said Attorney General Steve Marshal’s office “has and will enforce the law consistently against all violators.”

Marshal took the City of Birmingham to court after its then-mayor covered the 115-year-old Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument in a city park with plywood in 2017. The city eventually lost on appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court, but within months of that November decision, the statue was gone anyway.

Marshall filed suit on June 2 as the monument was being taken away. It’s the only new lawsuit, to date, despite similar actions around that state that seemingly violate the act.

Alabama’s monuments law doesn’t shield Confederate monuments specifically, but makes it illegal to remove or alter monuments that have been in place for more than 40 years. That would, by default, cover nearly every Confederate monument, as most were created around the turn of the 20th Century.

While supporters have call for the statues to be saved as a way of remembering history, opponents have been just as vocal about taking down what they consider reminders of racial oppression from the Jim Crow Era.

Several incidents that would appear to violate the state’s monuments act have, so far, gone unchallenged since protests began of Floyd’s death on Memorial Day.

But that may not be the case for long.

“In cases where the public entity acknowledges that the law has been broken, enforcement occurs more swiftly than when fact-gathering is required to proceed,” Lewis said. “We will evaluate each case as it arises and take action in accordance with the law.”

The mayor of Mobile has invited both praise and controversy for removing a statue of Confederate Admiral Raphael Semmes from its longtime downtown spot without public input in the middle of the night.

In Montgomery, there are calls to rename three schools including Robert E. Lee High School, Jefferson Davis High School, and Sidney Lanier High School, for their namesakes’ connections to the Confederate era, even as a statue of Lee was toppled from the perch it has been on since the 1950s.

In Macon County, officials are making plans to cover a statue with a tarp after profanities were spray painted on it.

And in Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama system is removing plaques mentioning some people connected to the Civil War and is mulling name changes on several buildings.

Asked if the attorney general was preparing any specific legal actions regarding the memorial law, Lewis responded “we have no further actions to announce at this time.”

Currently the law calls for a $25,000 fine for each violation.

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