By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Saturday, October 10 the Mid-Alabama Republican Club passed a motion urging the state legislature to pass the Heritage Protection Act sponsored by State Senator Gerald Allen (R from Tuscaloosa). The motion also calls on the Jefferson County Commission to preserve the mural in the county courthouse that some critics have attacked as being too politically incorrect for modern viewers.
The Republican group which meets monthly in Vestavia wrote, “Whereas beginning in 1929, the Jefferson County Commission determined to construct a new nine-story granite and limestone Courthouse in the Modernistic style of the period complete with exterior bas-relief sculptures depicting images intended to portray the history of the State of Alabama as a whole as well as the attributes and cultural influences of the people of Jefferson County at that time; Whereas two historic murals 17.5 feet by 8 feet each were painted by famed artist John Warner Norton, of Chicago, IL, from 1931-1932, and located in the west entrance lobby of the Jefferson County Courthouse to showcase the transition and growth of both the State and the County, culturally and industrially, from the agrarian Old South to a modern industrial New South; Whereas the rapid industrial growth experienced in Jefferson County from the 1870’s until 1930’s drew immigrants from such diverse ethnicities including African-American, Irish, Italian, Greek, Russian and Middle Eastern peoples thus transforming Jefferson County over a short period of time into one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the entire state.”
The Mid-Alabama Republican Club resolution continued “Whereas the current Jefferson County Commission is considering a resolution to remove the historically significant murals that have been displayed continuously since April 24, 1932; Whereas the two Courthouse murals are historically significant and should be appreciated and studied for their artistic quality, but more importantly, to provide the viewer with a unique insight into the public perceptions of race and labor relations during the 1920’s and 1930’s, and to serve as an unbiased reminder of the social and industrial history of Jefferson County; Whereas officials with the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Jefferson County Historical Commission have advanced common-sense resolutions that would add interpretation and historical content to better explain to the public the scenes and symbolism depicted; and Whereas the Alabama Legislature is currently considering legislation that would create the Alabama Heritage Protection Act, outlawing the removal or relocation of any statue or monument on public property or historically significant public work such as the Jefferson County Courthouse murals; now, therefore, be it Resolved, that the Mid-Alabama Republican Club fully supports the passage of the Alabama Heritage Protection Act; and Further Resolved that the Mid-Alabama Republican Club stands firmly opposed to removing the Jefferson County Courthouse murals and encourages the Jefferson County Commission to defeat any revisionist attempt to erase such historically significant artifacts as the Courthouse murals, especially with other viable options available to further the education of all generations on our County and State’s rich and ever-transformational history as the experiment of democracy that is the United States of America continues on for generations to come.”
The Southern Heritage Groups: “Save Our South” is fighting both the removal of the murals and the Confederate Veterans monument in Birmingham’s Linn Park. Save Our South wrote in a prepared statement that it, “Believes it is detrimental to the preservation of history for future generations, if any monument, mural, memorial, or historical site is removed or desecrated. This includes Confederate, United States, Civil Rights, any war, and religious monuments.”
Senator Allen introduced legislation to protect markers, memorials, and other cultural artifacts from destruction during both special sessions; but given the time constraints and the focus on crafting a state general fund (SGF) budget deal his Heritage Protection Act legislation did not advance during either special session. Allen intends to bring the legislation back in the 2016 regular legislative session.