The Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center commended the city of Montgomery in a statement Thursday for renaming Jefferson Davis Avenue to Fred D. Gray Avenue in honor of the late civil rights attorney, who grew up on the street.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center applauds the city of Montgomery for boldly renaming a street to honor Fred D. Gray,” said SPLC Chief of Staff Lecia Brooks. “This famed civil rights attorney continues to proudly represent the city’s values, morals, and character, and is a street name that anyone would be proud to claim–, A street name tells visitors a lot about a neighborhood and/or a city. Instead of offering revisionist history, Fred D. Gray Avenue now appropriately and proudly puts Montgomery’s rich history on display.”
In October, the city of Montgomery officially renamed Jefferson Davis Avenue in Montgomery to Fred Gray Avenue, drawing a $25,000 fine from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who further threatened the city with a lawsuit if the fine went unpaid.
The fine is set in accordance with the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017, a law that prohibits local governments from renaming or moving historical monuments or memorials, including memorial streets, without the expressed permission of the state. The avenue is considered a memorial street, despite the law not specifying whether memorials to the confederacy are within the act’s scope.
“The street’s former namesake, Jefferson Davis, was an unapologetic white supremacist who called slavery ‘a moral, a social and a political blessing.’ Yet 144 live tributes to Davis are located across the U.S. – second only to the 242 live tributes to Robert E. Lee,” Brooks said. “Oppressive Confederate relics, which are primarily located in Black communities, represent the most dehumanizing and brutal aspects of U.S. history, the aftereffects of which are still felt today. Uplifting the names and likenesses of men who fought and died to enslave Black people for personal and economic gain does nothing to inspire local or cultural pride. This is the legacy that laws like Alabama’s Memorial Preservation Act have upheld since 2017.”