City officials in Birmingham and Mobile, two of Alabama’s largest cities, defied state law and removed Confederate monuments from public land this week.
On Sunday night, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, a Democrat, joined protestors at downtown Linn Park, where an obelisk honoring Confederate soldiers and seamen had stood since the Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated it in 1915. Woodfin promised protestors, who were attempting to take down the monument themselves (a University of Alabama at Birmingham professor even tweeted directions on how to fell obelisk-style monuments), asked for two days to get rid of the monument.
“Allow me to finish the job for you”, he told protestors. By Tuesday at noon, he said, it would be gone.
In 2017, however, the Alabama State Legislature passed a law banning the removal of monuments forty years or older by local governments without the state’s permission. The City of Birmingham, which had installed a wooden barrier around the bottom of the monument already, payed a $25,000 civil fee–required by the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act–for obstructing the monument’s view in 2019.
After calls with Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth, and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, all Republicans, the mayor was assured the penalty for removal would be another one-time fee of $25,000. Woodfin then directed city officials to remove the 115-year old monument. By Tuesday afternoon, the monument was gone.
On Thursday in coastal Mobile, Republican Mayor Sandy Stimpson similarly defied state law and directed city officials to remove a 120-year old statue of Raphael Semmes, an officer in the Confederate Navy, from a downtown monument. In a Friday tweet, Stimpson said, “To be clear: This decision is not about Raphael Semmes, it is not about a monument and it is not an attempt to rewrite history.”
“Moving this statue will not change the past,” he continued. “It is about removing a potential distraction so we may focus clearly on the future of our city. That conversation, and the mission to create One Mobile, continues today.”
The base of the monument in Mobile is still standing.
Monuments in other parts of the state are receiving renewed attention and calls for removal as well. Singer-songwriter John Paul White, a Florence, Alabama native who became renowned world-wide for his work as part of the duo The Civil Wars, is bankrolling an effort to remove a Confederate monument from the local county courthouse.
How deep into the state’s more rural areas the anti-monument sentiment creeps, however, is yet to be seen.