HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Alabama Senate is moving forward with legislation that aims to increase fines and penalties for those who relocate historic monuments in the state.
Much of the controversy surrounding current law pertains to the status of long-standing confederate monuments.
David Person, a Huntsville-area community activist, said prior to the 2017 Memorial Preservation Act there was little to no fuss about relocating confederate monuments in Alabama.
“This law was crafted specifically to protect the legacy of the confederacy, and not just the legacy but really a celebration of it,” Person said. “We don’t have any problem with history. But we have a problem with the celebration of an immoral history of failed history.”
The current law forbids the removal or alteration of monuments more than 40 years old. It also states that violations carry a one-time $25,000 fine.
Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Alabama Senator Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, would up the fine to $5,000 for every day a monument is not in its original location. The bill has passed out of a senate committee and heads to the full Senate for consideration in the coming weeks.
After the Preservation Act was made law in 2017, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in its favor. One justice suggested a $25,000 fine wasn’t enough of a deterrent. Allen told News 19 he followed that guidance in the current bill.
He said his effort is all about better protecting history.
“Regardless of what the history is, all history has molded us, shaped us, to bring us to where we are today,” Allen said. “All history is a reflection of where we have been and where we still have to go. We can learn from it.”
And while Allen’s bill has yet to reach the state house of representatives, Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon weighed in on the statewide monument controversy.
“I’m a big advocate for not destroying or burying our history, no matter how ugly it may have been because we learn from it,” he said. “By the same token, I think there’s a proper time, a there’s a proper place and there’s a proper way for us to exhibit what our history was and bring our state forward. Through that, everybody’s passionate, and sometimes people can get so passionate on one side of the issue they draw a line in the sand. And once we get to that point, then we can no longer reason with each other.”
Ed Kennedy, a member of the group Heritage Protection of North Alabama has drawn that line.
Kennedy tells News 19 the fact that the Madison County confederate monument was relocated poses an even bigger issue, one that he thinks should derail Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong’s run for a congressional seat.
“The people of Alabama voted a law through their representatives to protect our veterans’ memorials and monuments,” Kennedy said. “Dale Strong took it on himself to break the law [and] led the county commission to move that monument against the law.”
Kennedy and the group recently sought to get Strong’s name removed from the ballot because of his involvement with the relocation.
And not only is Kennedy unhappy with the process of moving the statue but he doesn’t think it was rehomed in an appropriate place.
“There are no confederates from Madison County buried where that monument stands,” he said. “Those soldiers are from the military hospital that was in Huntsville. The soldiers from Madison County, which is what the monument is to, were taken home to their own cemeteries.”
Person on the other hand applauds the county commission for taking initiative.
“We had people, Black people, white people, others who stood together to say our community should not be subsidizing that statue,” he said. “It was on public ground, our community, our tax dollars, our governmental structures should not be subsidizing the existence of that statute.”
But Kennedy argues history is history.
“At the time this was done everywhere in the United States, across the country, monuments to soldiers went on public property in the north in the south. The East and West. So the argument is interesting, but I don’t think it holds water,” he said. “It’s to the soldiers who served the armies of the people back then it’s their possession that that place where it stands as much as anybody else’s. The government property is the taxpayers’, that’s where they put the monuments.”
Person said Kennedy’s right, the monuments symbolize a piece of history, but that doesn’t mean they should be highlighted as a good thing.
“It’s an unfortunate part of his history of my history. I’m an American, just like he is. It’s an unfortunate part of American history,” he said. “We should remember the history. But there’s a difference between commemoration and celebration. When you commemorate something, you acknowledge that it happened. You acknowledge its existence. When you celebrate something, you’re not only commemorating it but you’re going a step further, and you’re saying it was a good thing. We’re saying that a statue on public property is a very explicit way for the government to say we endorse what this represents.”