Birmingham activist calls for removal of Confederate monument

Written by on January 16, 2019

Birmingham city workers covered the Confederate monument in Linn Park on orders from then-Mayor William Bell in 2017. (Joe Songer | jsonger@al.com).
Birmingham city workers covered the Confederate monument in Linn Park on orders from then-Mayor William Bell in 2017. (Joe Songer | jsonger@al.com). (Joe Songer | jsonger@al.com)

A Birmingham activist is calling for the removal of the Confederate monument in Linn Park, two days after a judge ruled the law that protected the memorial is void.

Frank Matthews, president and founder of the Outcast Voters League, spoke at the Birmingham Parks and Recreation Board meeting on Wednesday morning. He called for the board to remove the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Linn Park, which has been covered with black plywood since August 2017.

“Let’s do this right,” Matthews said. “The judge has ruled. We have nothing to fear.”

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo issued his order on Monday just before midnight. The order comes over a year after the Alabama Attorney General’s Office sued the city for violating the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act– a law to prohibit local governmentsfrom moving historical monuments on public property that have been in place for 40 years or more. The act also prohibits renaming buildings and streets with historical names that have been in place at least 40 years.

In his order, Graffeo said he “reluctantly” declares the act is void and has no legal effect or authority, and the city of Birmingham doesn’t have to take down its wooden screen placed the Linn Park monument.

A spokesperson for the AG’s Office said Wednesday that a judgement is not final until 30 days after the date of filing, and the state is currently working on an appeal which should be filed sometime this week.

Judge rules Alabama Confederate monument law is void; city of Birmingham didn’t break the law

Judge rules Alabama Confederate monument law is void; city of Birmingham didn’t break the law

A judge ruled late Monday that Birmingham was not violating state law when then-Mayor William Bell ordered a Confederate monument in Linn Park be covered.

After the city erected the wooden screen in 2017, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office sued the city. In April 2018, attorneys from the city and the AG’s Office argued their cases, and each filed court briefs. Graffeo’s ruling came about eight months after the arguments were presented.

“Just as the state could not force any particular citizen to post a pro-Confederacy sign in his or her front lawn, so too can the state not commandeer the city’s property for the state’s preferred message,” Graffeo wrote in his Monday ruling.

Here is a close-up look at the monument

While Matthews said he recognizes the history behind the monument, he doesn’t think it has a place in the heart of Birmingham. Matthews said he agrees with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin that the monument should be placed in a museum, like the Birmingham Museum of Art.

Matthews said he would like the memorial to be taken down before people across the country visit Birmingham in 2020 for the World Games. He said the city should have taken down the monument in 2015 like other cities across the nation.

That year, the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board unanimously approved a resolution to ask city attorneys to research the removal of the 112-year-old monument to Confederate veterans at the park. Gov. Kay Ivey signed the Memorial Preservation Act into law in May 2017 and, when the wood covering was put up months later, Bell said he wouldn’t break the law to tear down the monument.


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