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Marshall threatens to sue Montgomery officials for renaming a street

Montgomery recently renamed Jefferson Davis Ave for famed civil rights attorney Fred Gray, who grew up on the street.

Attorney General Steve Marshall in 2021. Governor's Office/Hal Yeager

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall is threatening to sue the City of Montgomery for honoring a Civil Rights icon. 

According to AP, Marshall sent a letter to Montgomery officials earlier this month informing them that the city would be fined $25,000 or face legal action because it changed the name of a street. City officials removed confederate president Jefferson Davis’ name and renamed the street for famed civil rights attorney Fred Gray, who grew up on the street on Montgomery’s west side. 

The letter states Montgomery must pay the $25,000 fine or that Marshall “will file suit on behalf of the state.” 

The Alabama Memorial Preservation Act prohibits cities and counties from removing or altering historic memorials and monuments, including memorial streets. However, the law doesn’t specifically mention memorials to the confederacy, nor does it spell out exactly what constitutes a “memorial.” 

This would be the first time the law has been used by the AG’s office to challenge the renaming of a street, according to AP. 

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, in the meantime, told AP that he isn’t sure just yet what he plans to do. The city has received offers from groups all over the country to pay the fine. But Reed said he’s exploring whether to force Marshall to file suit and defend the action in court. 

“The other question we have to answer is: Should we pay the fine when we see it as an unjust law?” Reed told AP. “We’re certainly considering taking the matter to court because it takes away home rule for municipalities.”

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The question is particularly important in Montgomery, where Black citizens make up the majority and confederate monuments abound. The county school system has already announced that it plans to rename three schools that are named after former confederates. 

It is also important in another regard: Montgomery is home to some of the most famous civil rights icons in American history, and many of those heroes aren’t honored with building and street names or large memorials. In recent years, as a more accurate U.S. history has started to be told, a movement to honor those icons has grown. At the same time, many want to stop honoring slave owners and racists. 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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