A Civil War monument in Birmingham’s Linn Park has been shrouded from view while the city’s law department examines ways to remove the landmark, Birmingham Mayor William Bell said.
The move prompted the state attorney general on Wednesday to file a lawsuit contending the city had violated a state law that “alters” or “disturbs” memorials.
City Council President Johnathan Austin urged removal of the monument, saying Dr. Martin Luther King sat in a cell not far from City Hall and instructed citizens “on the importance of identifying and defying unjust laws.”
On Wednesday, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced that his office filed suit in Jefferson County Circuit Court against the city of Birmingham and mayor for violating state law by constructing barriers to deliberately obscure a historically significant monument in Linn Park.
“In accordance with the law, my office has determined that by affixing tarps and placing plywood around the Linn Park Memorial such that it is hidden from view, the Defendants have ‘altered’ or ‘otherwise disturbed’ the memorial in violation of the letter and spirit of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act,” said Marshall. “The City of Birmingham does not have the right to violate the law and leaves my office with no choice but to file suit.”
Bell responded, “We look forward to the court system clarifying the rights and power of a municipality to control its parks absent state intervention.”
City officials took steps after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. left one woman dead and 19 others injured. The nationalists, Neo-Nazis and others descended on Charlottesville following the city’s decision to remove a monument to Robert E. Lee.
Bell had said on Tuesday, “the Civil War monument at Linn Park has been placed in concealment and shrouded from view while the city’s law department researches all possible grounds to challenge the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act’s restrictions on the city’s authority to control removal of monuments on city property.”
In May, Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017 which bars the removal, renaming, removal and alteration of monuments, memorial streets, memorial buildings and architecturally significant buildings located on public property for 40 or more years.
Austin said he appreciates Bell’s commitment to upholding the laws, “however, more than 50 years ago in a cell just a few blocks from where we sit today, Dr. King instructed us on the importance of identifying and defying unjust laws,” Austin said in a statement. “In a letter from the Birmingham jail, he advised us, ‘Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.’ There is nothing more degrading than slavery, or the rejection of the fundamental principle that all men are created equal.”
Bell said the city wants to send a message that incidents like the one in Charlottesville will not be tolerated in this city.
However, Austin said he feels that the monuments are “divisive and racist” and should be removed.
“These monuments in the courthouse and park are memorializing a past no one in Birmingham is proud of,” Austin said. “We’re not proud of the lynching that took place. We’re not proud of slavery or Jim Crow laws that were put in place afterward . . . Mr. Mayor, tear down those statues,” Austin said.