Remembering the Rebels

by Tanner D’Ortenzio

Alabama Code Title 41. State Government § 41-9-232 states the following:

(a) No architecturally significant building, memorial building, memorial street, or monument which is located on public property and has been so situated for 40 or more years may be relocated, removed, altered, renamed, or otherwise disturbed.[1]

Also known as the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017, this act essentially prohibits the removal or alteration of any kind to public Confederate monuments. This raises an incredibly important question: Are these regulations fair and just? According to the Alabama Supreme court, they are. The state of Alabama has taken a not so surprising stance on the matter, reinforcing the position stated in the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act in a legal battle over a monument honoring Confederate soldiers and sailors in the city of Birmingham.

The saga begins in 1894 with the original erection of the monument. A few short years later and the memorial was officially dedicated with a marble shaft by the Pelham Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.[2] In the past, these monuments were seen as a reminder of the bravery and courage that was in the heart of every Confederate battling against the United States. But with well over a hundred years of reflection and advancement, these monuments are seen in a somewhat different light.

In August of 2017, the city of Birmingham placed a plywood screen surrounding the monument, obscuring its rebellious remembrance from its citizens. As controversy grew surrounding confederate monuments around the country, the city of Birmingham chose to conceal this monument in direct violation with the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.[3] Soon after this decision, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filled a lawsuit against the City and its former mayor for defying the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. In response to this lawsuit, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo attempted to overturn this act with a ruling justifying their position by stating how, “A city has the right to speak for itself, to say what it wishes, and to select the views that it wants to express.”[4] Judge Graddeo goes on to state how:

“Just as the state could not force any particular citizen to post a pro-Confederacy sign in his or her front lawn, so too can the state not commandeer the city’s property for the state’s preferred message,”[5]

This case  was taken to the Alabama Supreme court to decide the fate of this long standing monument. In a 9-0 decision, the states Supreme court nullified Judge Michael Graffeo’s decision stating how the city broke the 2017 law protecting monuments and instructed the city to pay a  $25,000 dollar fine for breaking said law.[6] In response to this ruling, Rick Journey, the city’s director of communications, issued a statement:

“We are strongly disappointed with the ruling of the Alabama Supreme Court, This ruling appears to be less about the rule of law and more about politics. We are carefully reviewing the opinion to determine our next step, but clearly the citizens of Birmingham should have the final decision about what happens with monuments on Birmingham city grounds.”[7]

The Alabama Supreme Court, in their ruling, has defended the idea that the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act is fair and just. While the City of Birmingham disagrees with this stance, they must uphold the Supreme Court’s decision. Pushback for the preservation of confederate monuments has only been growing in recent years and perhaps we will see the Birmingham eventually conceal the monument like they wish. More cases like the ones presented are bound to appear in the coming years, and perhaps more courts will recognize a City’s ability to maintain its own right to free speech. Afterall, the stance of a city is often times the stance of its citizens. If these citizens desire to change their city to reflect their views, they should be able to. If a city’s citizens desire memorialize another moment from their past, they should be able to.

[1] Alabama Code Title 41. State Government § 41-9-232

[2] Mike Cason, Alabama Supreme Court upholds Confederate monument law, 2019,

[3] Id.

[4] State of Alabama v. City of Birmingham

[5] Id.


[7] Mike Cason, Alabama Supreme Court Upholds Confederate Monument Law, 2019