While communities around the country grapple with what to do about the shameful legacy embodied in the various Confederate monuments they have on display, the Democratic mayor of Birmingham, AL, has taken matters into his own hands.
Late Tuesday evening, city workers converged at Birmingham’s Linn Park with construction equipment, and set about boarding up the monolithic Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument that sits at the entrance to the park. The order to cover the memorial came from Mayor William Bell, who explained that, due to a state statute preventing the removal of monuments without approval from a state commission, he’d decided to cover the statue while his legal options were being reviewed.
“It’s my desire to...no longer allow these statues to be seen by the public until such time that we can tell the full story of slavery, the full story of what the Confederacy really meant,” Bell told reporters during a brief Q&A about his decision.
The move to cover the monument–which was dedicated in the city in 1905—comes over two years after Birmingham’s Park and Recreation Board greenlit a proposal for the city attorney to begin looking into how best to remove the memorial.
However, in the aftermath of the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, Birmingham officials saw a renewed sense of urgency.
“We need to take them down,” Birmingham City Council President Johnathan Austin told Mayor Bell earlier on Tuesday. “We will deal with the repercussions after that.”
In a statement issued after the order to cover the monument, Austin praised the mayor for the decision, and called upon Martin Luther King’s iconic “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” to urge the mayor to reject the “unjust laws” preventing him from removing the statue at once.
Thanks to Mayor Bell for coming around to understand the pain caused by the continued presence of these monuments. I appreciate his commitment to upholding the laws.
However, more 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.
Already, a GoFundMe campaign has been established to cover the potential $25,000 fine the city risks should it remove the obelisk without permission.
Mayor Bell insisted on Tuesday that his office was looking into his legal options, adding that the statue would remain covered “for the foreseeable future.”