By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, August 8, US Representative Terri Sewell and Mayor William Bell joined Conservation Alabama and the League of Conservation Voters for a tour of the Birmingham Civil Rights Monument.
The tour highlighted the importance of preserving National monuments at a time when the Trump administration is conducting an unprecedented National Monument “review.”
The Executive Director of Conservation Alabama Tammy Herrington told The Alabama Political Reporter (APR) that President Barack H. Obama (D) had declared the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and the AG Gaston Hotel a National Monument before he left office. However, President Donald J. Trump (R) has ordered a review of all the National Monuments established by Presidents since 1996.
US Representative Terri Sewell (D-Selma) said that all of the Alabama Congressional Delegation supported a bill to make the area a national park; but that bill did not pass during the last Congress, so President Obama used the National Monuments designation which Presidents have had the ability to declare since 1906.
The event included visits to the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Civil Rights Institute and Kelly Ingram Park.
The visit is part of LCV’s ”Our Land Our Vote” campaign, which is fighting the Trump administration’s attempt to revoke protections for national monuments across the country.
League of Conservation Voters Congressional Liason Darien Davis said we are here to discuss how to protect the historical places of America.
Rep. Sewell said, “I would like to first start by thanking the League of Conservation Voters and Conservation Alabama for really highlighting the importance of our national monuments and this Administration’s efforts to review national monuments.”
Rep. Sewell said that the Birmingham Civil Rights Monument includes the 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingraham Park (where then Birmingham Police Commissioner Bull Connor used fire hoses on voting rights protestors), the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and the AG Gaston Hotel where leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and fellow civil rights leaders stayed during segregation and where they planned the Civil Rights movement.
Sewell said that the events that took place here led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and really highlighted the importance of civil rights.
Mayor William Bell said that monument status would help the City to be able to apply for funds to restore the AG Gaston Hotel and help maintain the Civil Rights District.
Bell told APR that he spent the first two years as Mayor telling financiers in New York that the financial problems in Jefferson County at the time had no effect on the city as the city and county are two different government entities, unlike in many major cities where they have a combined form of government. Bell said that the city has weathered the Great Recession and the County bankruptcy. The city has been gaining momentum in recent years and is in position to really grow.
16th Street Baptist Church Pastor Arthur Price said that this is actually the third Church building. The first was built in 1874 as a Church for the freed slaves, but it was condemned by the City in 1884. The Church then was moved to its present location. That second Church was very beautiful. In 1908 the City ordered it demolished because it was too tall for the city ordinance of the day. The current Church was built then.
The Church was deeply involved in planning the Civil Rights movement leading to it being targeting by White Supremacists who bombed the Church on September 15, 1963. The senseless terrorist attack killed four little girls who were there for Sunday School. The senseless slayings horrified the country helping pass the Voting Rights Act.
Pastor Price showed us where the stained glass windows were blown out by the blast and where a stained glass window of Jesus survived…..all but his face which was blown out by the explosion.
While we were there, a tour from HUD was taking place bringing people from across the country to see Birmingham and the civil rights history that occurred there 54 years ago.