Aug. 15, 2017 — Mayor William Bell had a Confederate monument outside Birmingham City Hall obscured by a wooden barrier Tuesday night while efforts are made to remove it.
But the state’s attorney general quickly sued the city and the mayor, saying the move violated a state law passed in the spring that says monuments more than 40 years old cannot be altered without approval from a new commission.
The topic of removing the statute was brought up during the Tuesday morning City Council meeting. Council President Johnathan Austin had called on Bell to remove the monument and others like it in Birmingham, calling them “offensive” and saying they “celebrate racism, bigotry, hate and all those things that the South has been known for.
“Those monuments were put there to celebrate a dark time in the history of this country,” Austin said.
Austin’s comments were spurred by recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the planned removal of a Confederate monument spurred protests and counter protests. A reported white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring several others.
The event has become a subject of national controversy, particularly after President Donald Trump’s perceived reluctance initially to condemn Nazi and white supremacist groups involved in the protest.
The Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument has stood in Linn Park since 1905, when it was donated to the city by the Pelham chapter of United Daughters of the Confederacy, according to bhamwiki. The 52-foot-tall obelisk features an inscription dedicating the monument to Confederate soldiers and sailors on its front, as well as a quote on the back from Confederacy President Jefferson Davis: “The manner of their death, was the crowning glory of their lives.”
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Bell’s response to Austin’s request was measured, citing the law passed by the Alabama Legislature in May.
“I’m not in the business of breaking the law that I swore to uphold, but I am in the business of challenging that law,” Bell told Austin. Bell said he was working on “challenging both the state and federal governments to address these issues.” He added that the statue being donated by a private organization and displayed on public property might make the case somewhat different.
Austin during the meeting urged the immediate removal of the monument, saying the city could “deal with the repercussions after the fact.” Tuesday afternoon he applauded Bell’s decision, according to the Birmingham City Council’s Twitter account. “Thanks to Mayor Bell for coming around to understand the pain caused by the continued presence of these monuments,” he said.