Last month, the Alabama capital removed the Confederate president’s name from an avenue and renamed it in honor of an attorney known for his work during the civil rights movement.
Now the state attorney general says the city must pay a fine or face a lawsuit for violating a state law protecting Confederate monuments and other long-standing memorials.
Montgomery last month changed the name of Jeff Davis Avenue to Fred D. Gray Avenue. Gray, who grew up on that same street, has represented Rosa Parks and others in cases that combated Deep South segregation practices and has been dubbed by Martin Luther King Jr. as “the movement’s chief advocate. of protest ”.
The Alabama Attorney General’s Office sent a letter Nov. 5 to Montgomery officials saying the city must pay a $ 25,000 fine by Dec. 8, “otherwise, the attorney general will file a complaint on behalf of the State “.
Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said changing the name was the right thing to do.
“It was important that we show, not only our residents here, but people from afar that this is a new Montgomery,” Reed, the city’s first black mayor, said in an interview. telephone. It was Reed’s suggestion to rename the street after Gray.
“We want to honor the heroes who fought to make this union as perfect as possible. When I see a lot of the Confederate symbols that we have in the city, it sends the message that we are focusing on the lost cause as opposed to those things that bring us together under the stars and stars.
The Alabama Memorial Preservation Act prohibits the removal or alteration of monuments and memorials – including a memorial street or memorial building – that have been in existence for more than 40 years. Although the law does not specifically mention Confederate monuments, lawmakers approved the measure in 2017, as some cities began demolishing Confederate monuments. Violations result in a fine of $ 25,000.
Mike Lewis, spokesman for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, declined to comment on the letter to the city. This is the first time the law has been used regarding a street name change, he said.
The Alabama, all-Republican Supreme Court in 2019 overturned a circuit judge’s decision that declared the law an unconstitutional violation of the right to free speech of local communities.
Reed said they knew it was a possibility when the city renamed the street. Donors across the country have offered to pay the fine for the city. He said they are also considering taking the case to court.
“The other question we have to answer is, should we pay the fine when we see it as an unfair law?” Reed said.
The capital of Alabama is sometimes referred to as the “Cradle of Confederation” because it was here that state representatives met in 1861 to form Confederation, and the city was the first Confederate capital. The city has also played a key role in the civil rights movement, including the Montgomery bus boycott. The Montgomery County school system voted to rename the high schools named after Davis and Confederate General Robert E. Lee, although the names have not yet been changed.
Several cities have just opted for the demolition of Confederate monuments and paid the fine of $ 25,000. The state was recently fined $ 25,000 after prosecuting officials in Huntsville, where the county last year removed a Confederate memorial outside the county courthouse.
Last year, Marshall posted a video message berating local officials for breaking the law by removing monuments.