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Birmingham can keep Confederate statue covered up, judge rules

The then-mayor ordered it covered after Charlottesville, but the state sued

by Emma Ockerman
Jan 15 2019, 9:00pm

An Alabama judge ruled the state’s law protecting municipal Confederate monuments is void, so the city of Birmingham can keep a Confederate statue in a local park covered up, as directed by the former mayor in 2017 after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Noting that many in Birmingham are “repulsed by the monument,” Jefferson County Circuit Court judge Michael Graffeo said the state of Alabama overstepped its authority when it sued to get the soldier monument uncovered, according to court filings.

After the violent Unite the Right rally in August 2017 and national division over the messages sent by Confederate monuments, Birmingham’s then-mayor directed city employees to cover a Confederate soldier monument with plywood and tarp, blocking it from view. The state’s attorney general quickly sued, since Alabama state law penalizes cities with at least $25,000 in fines if they remove or sully monuments. Graffeo also ruled Monday night that the state’s law protecting municipal Confederate monuments is void and without any legal authority.

The ruling came about 20 minutes before his retirement at midnight, according to the state media outlet AL.com.

"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 the ruling.

The Unite the Right rally — which left one woman dead — was sparked, in part, by fervor over whether a Confederate statue in the city was racist or honorable. In the rally’s somber aftermath, progressive cities across the country moved to either hide their monuments or add more context about the justifications behind their widespread installment. Birmingham’s monument, which honors Confederate soldiers in general rather than any one particular figure or moment in history, was dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1905. Over 1,500 such monuments exist across the United States.


Alabama’s “Monument Preservation Act” also blocks municipalities from renaming public properties like parks or schools if the name has been around for more than 40 years. That’s void too, per Graffeo’s ruling.

“The act also violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it deprives the city of property without due process of law,” the judge wrote, adding: “That the city is being deprived of property is clear,” because the state is attempting to control what the city can do with its own land.

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office will appeal the ruling, according to AL.com.

Cover: Birmingham city workers unload plywood panels to be used to cover the Confederate Monument in Linn Park, in Birmingham, Ala., Tuesday night, Aug. 15, 2017, on orders from Mayor William Bell. (Joe Songer /AL.com via AP)