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Alabama tied for most Confederate symbols removed in 2020

Competing bills this legislative session would either repeal or strengthen Alabama’s Memorial Preservation Act.

A Confederate monument in Birmingham is removed by the city.

Alabama tied with Texas in removing the most Confederate monuments and symbols in 2020, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

More than 160 Confederate symbols and monuments have been removed nationwide last year, and 12 of them were in Alabama, according to the SPLC. 

The SPLC defines Confederate symbols and monuments as government buildings, Confederate monuments and statues, plaques, markers, schools, parks, counties, cities, military property and streets and highways named after anyone associated with the Confederacy.

The pace of removal has quickened in recent years. During 2020 there were 96 Confederate monuments removed, compared to just 58 removed between 2015 and 2019, according to the SPLC. Virginia removed the most last year, at 71, followed by North Carolina, with 24 monuments removed. 

The Alabama House Judiciary Committee earlier this month failed to advance a bill by Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, that would have repealed the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, enacted in 2017. The law prohibits cities and counties from removing monuments from public property that have been there for 40 years or more, or face a one-time $25,000 fine. The act was widely viewed as an attempt to protect Confederate monuments, memorials and namesakes.

Rep. Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka, introduced a bill that would strengthen the Memorial Preservation Act. APR reported on Feb. 11 that two members of a group identified by the SPLC as a hate group aided Holmes as he wrote that bill. Holmes’s monuments bill was read for the first time on Feb. 2 and moved to the House State Government Committee. That committee doesn’t yet have a scheduled meeting in this legislative session. 

The SPLC noted in the report that at least 167 Confederate symbols have been removed since the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020. 

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Since the deadly mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015, when a white supremacist shot and killed nine people, there have been 312 Confederate symbols removed from public spaces, but after the South Carolina Legislature enacted the state’s Heritage Act, no such symbols were removed from the state, the SPLC found. 

More than 2,100 Confederate symbols remain in the U.S., according to the report, 704 of which are monuments. 

SPLC chief of staff Lecia Brooks said 2020 was a transformative year for the movement to remove Confederate symbols from public spaces of prestige. Over the course of seven months, more symbols of hate were removed from public property than in the preceding four years combined, she said in a statement, adding:

“Despite this progress, communities informed the SPLC about more than 300 Confederate symbols located across the United States that remain. Many were located in the South, specifically Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, where preservation laws prohibit communities from making their own decisions about what they want to see in their public spaces. These dehumanizing symbols of pain and oppression continue to serve as backdrops to important government buildings, halls of justice, public parks, and U.S. military properties, including ten bases named after Confederate leaders across the South.

“We must recognize states like Virginia which not only had the courage to discontinue its preservation law, but also led by example after removing 71 Confederate symbols from their public spaces in 2020. Name changes are pending for 31 public schools across the country in 2021, ensuring that students will no longer be forced to learn in schools bearing racist namesakes.

“As witnessed on Jan. 6 when an insurrectionist brazenly carried a Confederate flag through the halls of the U.S. Capitol, Confederate symbols are a form of systemic racism used to intimidate, instill fear, and remind Black people that they have no place in American society. The SPLC firmly believes that all symbols of white supremacy should be removed from public spaces and will continue to support community efforts to remove, rename and relocate them.”

To view a list of the 168 Confederate symbols that have been removed across the U.S. visit the SPLC’s website here.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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