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Justice

Alabama Can’t Make Birmingham Display Confederate Monument

The legal decision was monumental both for its dismantling of a pro-Confederate law and the implications for cities’ rights in the face of states’ rights.
This photo shows inscriptions on a Confederate monument in Linn Park in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. The city walled it off in 2017.
This photo shows inscriptions on a Confederate monument in Linn Park in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. The city walled it off in 2017.Jay Reeves/AP

Long before Donald Trump proclaimed that there were some “very fine people, on both sides” of the alt-racist eruption in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Alabama Lieutenant Governor R.M. Cunningham gave similar equivocations at the 1905 dedication ceremony for the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument that was being installed in Birmingham’s Linn Park. Cunningham told the gathering that “the characterization of either side [of the Civil War] as rebels is false” because “both parties were loyalists and patriots.” The then-mayor of Birmingham Mel Drennen cosigned and said that his city’s new Confederate monument “memorialized … a cause that will ever remain fresh in the memories of our Southern people.”

The monument is a sandstone obelisk that stands 52-feet tall—higher than the average telephone pole—on a concrete foundation laid during an 1894 Confederate veterans reunion. Little did those vets know that in a few decades Birmingham would become the epicenter of a civil rights movement that explicitly disavowed the Confederate and Jim Crow causes the monument stood for.