On Monday night, June 1, the city of Birmingham began to dismantle the Confederate monument in Linn Park. Although the monument had been damaged during Sunday night’s riots, Birmingham has been trying to take the statue down for years. Learn more.
Why did Birmingham have a Confederate monument, anyway?
Okay, let’s do some math. Birmingham, which recently celebrated its 149th birthday, was founded in 1871. The Civil War ended in 1865, a full six years before Birmingham existed. So why on Earth did Birmingham have a Confederate monument?
According to BhamWiki, on April 26, 1894, the cornerstone for a future monument was laid in Linn Park (known as Capitol Park at the time) during the 1894 Reunion of Confederate Veterans in Birmingham. Inside the cornerstone was a sealed box with a Bible, a Confederate Flag, a bronze medal honoring the Declaration of Independence, several newspapers and lists of Confederate organizations.
For several years, the base remained empty. Then, in 1900, the Birmingham chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy began to raise funds to go towards a Confederate monument in the park. On April 26, 1905, the new monument was unveiled—a crowd 1,000+ made their way from the Jefferson County Courthouse to the park. Several attending Confederate veterans punctuated the event with their rendition of a “rebel yell”.
Birmingham Struggles to Take Down the Monument
In 2015, Birmingham began seriously considering removing the monument after the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Local activist Frank Matthews, among others, argued that the monument had nothing to do with Birmingham.
However, on May 24, 2016, Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law the “Alabama Memorial Preservation Act”, an act which would “prohibit the relocation, removal, alteration, renaming, or other disturbance of certain commemorative statues, monuments, memorials, or plaques which are located on public property,” without permission from the state legislature.
Following the violent protests against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, Mayor William Bell decided to cover the base of the monument with a black box until Birmingham could find a legal way to remove it.
On Sunday, May 31, a crowd in Linn Park protesting the murder of George Floyd attempted to topple the monument. In response, Mayor Randall Woodfin asked the protestors to give him 24 hours to find a legal means of removing the statue. However, the protestors continued to work at toppling the statue—although they tried to pull it down with a truck, it stayed put.
Instead, the protestors toppled a statue of Charles Linn, a Birmingham founder who served as a blockade runner in the Confederacy. In addition, they set fire to a statue of Thomas Jefferson and spray-painted graffiti in the park before vandalizing other buildings in downtown.
The Monument Comes Down
True to his word, Mayor Woodfin brought in a crane to dismantle the monument on the night of June 1. The crew safely removed the main obelisk, with the remaining base of the monument to follow in the coming days. Coincidentally, Alabama’s state holiday honoring Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate states, fell on June 1 this year.
Now that Birmingham removed the monument, the city is in violation of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act and faces a $25,000 fine. However, Birmingham citizens started a GoFundMe campaign to pay the bill—as of June 2, the GoFundMe has raised $57,619, more than double the amount of the fine.
“It is our hope that removing this monument will be but one step towards a more equitable and just Birmingham, Alabama. Let’s do this Alabama!”Statement by White Clergy for Black Lives Matter GoFundMe Campaign