Civil Rights attorney Fred Gray, (C), unveils the new street sign bearing his name alongside his wife Carol, (L), and Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, (R), during a ceremony October 26, 2021, in which the City of Montgomery renamed Jeff Davis Avenue Fred D. Gray Avenue in Montgomery, Alabama.
The state of Alabama is threatening to sue its own capital city for trying to make racial progress.
No, we didn’t stutter. In 2017, Alabama’s legislature passed a law to protect statues and other memorials to the failed, treasonous Confederacy. That put the city of Montgomery, which is majority Black, has a Black mayor and was both the site of the Confederacy’s formation as well as numerous flashpoints in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, in the line of fire as it removes racist symbols of the past.
Alabama’s capital city last month removed the Confederate president’s name from an avenue and renamed it after a lawyer 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 longstanding memorials.
Montgomery last month changed the name of Jeff Davis Avenue to Fred D. Gray Avenue. Gray, who grew up on that same street, represented Rosa Parks and others in cases that fought Deep South segregation practices and was dubbed by Martin Luther King Jr. as “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”
The Alabama attorney general’s office sent a Nov. 5 letter to Montgomery officials saying the city must pay a $25,000 fine by Dec. 8, “otherwise, the attorney general will file suit on behalf of the state.”
Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said changing the name was the right thing to do.
Damn right it was.
Nevermind that a judge once declared Alabama’s Confederate protection law unconstitutional (the state appealed and won in the Alabama Supreme Court), the statues and street signs that Alabama so desperately wants to protect were never about Confederate history. Most confederate monuments weren’t put up until the 1900s, long after the Civil War and Reconstruction and more timed to efforts to enforce Jim Crow restrictions on Black freedoms. Of course opposing the law is the right thing to do.
Reed (no relation to this writer, BTW), says he hasn’t decided whether Montgomery will just pay the $25,000 fine for renaming Fred D. Gray Avenue, or challenge Alabama’s law in court. We have a better idea: maybe the state should focus on its real problems, like its failing education system or why it took Nick Saban four overtimes to beat unranked Clemson.