Despite a state law designed to “protect” longstanding Confederate monuments and memorials, the city of Montgomery, Alabama, has decided that it would rather incur a fine than continue going on with a city street named after President of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, Jefferson Davis.
Kim Chandler of the Associated Press reported that “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.”
Following the change, State Attorney General Steve Marshall warned Montgomery city officials that they would either need to change the name back or pay a $25,000 fine from the state and possibly face a lawsuit on behalf of the state for violating state law. Officials in Montgomery were given a Dec. 8 deadline to make their decision.
According to Chandler, in place of Jefferson Davis Avenue, Montgomery leaders decided to name the street 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,’” Chandler reported.
In an interview with AP, Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, the city’s first Black mayor, said that changing the street’s name was the right thing for his city to do.
“It was important that we show not only our residents here but people from afar that this is a new Montgomery,” Reed said. “We want to honor those heroes that have fought to make this union as perfect as it can be. When I see a lot of the Confederate symbols that we have in the city, it sends a message that we are focused on the lost cause as opposed to those things that bring us together under the Stars and Stripes.”
In his letter to the city demanding the payment of the fine, Marshall cited The Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. The state law, which was passed in 2017, “forbids the removal or alteration of monuments and memorials — including a memorial street or memorial building — that have stood for more than 40 years.” Violations carry a $25,000 mandatory fine.
While a spokesman for Marshall declined to comment on the Montgomery matter, he confirmed that this is the first time the state law is being used for a street name getting renamed.
Speaking with Chandler, Mayor Reed said he knew the city could face a fine for their actions — but also decided the name change was too important not to make. He said donors across the country have already reached out, offering to help pay the fine for the city, but said that before he lets that happen, he is debating whether it would be more impactful to let the case go to court.
“The other question we have to answer is should we pay the fine when we see it as an unjust law?” Reed said. “We’re certainly considering taking the matter to court because it takes away home rule for municipalities.”
In October 2021, the city of Huntsville, Alabama, was hit with a similar fine from the state for its decision to remove a Confederate memorial outside the county courthouse. City officials in Huntsville also decided that paying the fine was more important than not making the important change in their city.