A controversial Confederate monument in downtown Birmingham’s Linn Park was taken apart and loaded onto a flatbed truck Monday night, a day after it sparked protests and looting of nearby businesses.
Mayor Randall Woodfin promised to remove the m0nument by Tuesday to stop violence in Birmingham’s downtown, and heavy equipment was moved into the park Monday evening. The top of the obelisk was down by about 10 p.m., and the second of three sections was removed shortly after 11 p.m. By 2:30 a.m., the third section was gone, meaning the full obelisk was gone and workers were left with the base of the statue.
Officials said the monument was being preserved and would be given to its owner, the Daughters of Confederacy.
Woodfin on Monday imposed a 7 p.m. curfew in Birmingham, and similar restrictions were in place in other Birmingham-area municipalities. Shortly after the curfew began, police arrested about a half dozen people who had gathered peacefully in front of the monument and refused to move.
Monday night’s activity was in stark contrast to events 24 hours earlier, when hundreds of people gathered in Linn Park to protest the killing of Ge0rge Floyd last week by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The crowd on Sunday spray-painted slogans on the monument and tried unsuccessfully to topple it. Afterward, the crowd moved through the streets just south of the park, with some breaking out windows and damaging a number of restaurants, shops and other businesses.
Michael Focus, who lives downtown, went to the park Monday evening to watch history happen.
He said he’d been going to the park since he was a child. He remembered his parents taking him there for music festivals and other events. At that time he didn’t know what the monuments were honoring, but just thought they were cool. Then he grew up.
“I want to witness history, considering I’ve lived with it my whole life,” he said. “This had to change”
Wanda Madison Minor, an African American graduate of the University of Alabama and former Birmingham resident now living in Dayton, Ohio, said in a message that she also was “ecstatic” over the monument’s removal. “Hopefully, it can be placed in its appropriate resting place along with other historic relics of our beloved Alabama’s storied history,” the Sumter County native said.
“I don’t think history should be destroyed nor distorted.” said Minor, who has a doctoral degree from UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences and whose dissertation was entitled “The Rhetorical Construction of White Supremacy in Alabama’s 1901 Constitution.”
“History is/should be about what really happened … the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Minor said. “We have had a lot of ugly, but despite our differences deep down, we share similar values. The amazing museums and institutes across our beautiful state tell the stories of our diverse heritages. We need to learn from our past and do better. It has been said that if we don’t learn our history, we are doomed/destined to repeat it.”
Controversy has swirled around the monument for more than a year, as the city sought to remove it.
The city erected a plywood wall around the Confederate monument to obscure the plaques on it in 2017, effectively challenging a state law that makes removal of historic monuments illegal. The state attorney general sued the city of Birmingham. Last year, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the law, and later the city was fined $25,000.
The crowd ripped down that plywood before attacking the monument Sunday night.
Under the monuments protection law, the punishment for removing the Confederate monument “would be a one-time assessment of $25,000,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said.
Shortly before workers brought heavy equipment to the base of the monument Monday night, Jermaine “FunnyMaine” Johnson, who called for the Sunday night protest at the monument, noted on his Twitter feed that a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the assessment had raised nearly $31,000. “Unity is beautiful!!!” Johnson exulted.
Veteran state Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said Monday night that the monument was a longtime bone of contention and that he was “ecstatic” to see it coming down.
“You see how quiet and peaceful it’s been tonight since they are taking that statue down?” Rogers said. He noted that Marshall, the state attorney general, previously had said his office would sue the city under the Alabama Monuments Preservation Act if the monument went down. Given the situation, though, Marshall agreed to the one-time fine as punishment for taking down the monument. Rogers had suggested what they already planned, which was to give the monument to the Daughters of the Confederacy and let them do what they want with it on personal property.
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” Rogers said.
Asked what he would say to folks who said the presence of the monument should not be a big deal, Rogers said, “It’s not a big deal, but in a city where your citizens don’t want it up, it’s a big deal and if it’s offensive to them, it’s a big deal. (Taking the monument down) gives a sense of calm to your citizenry, because they want it down.”
Asked what the monument’s presence meant to him personally, Rogers said, “An old head like me, I’ve learned to see and not see, but it’s still a bone of contention to a lot of people, especially young folks.”