The old folks said that when someone tells you who he is, believe him. State Sen. Gerald Allen has made me a believer.
The first time was in 2017, when the Tuscaloosa Republican sponsored the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. The act called for historic monuments that were at least 40 years old to be preserved and protected as they are.
Allen said it was “intended to preserve all of Alabama’s history – the good and the bad – so our children and grandchildren can learn from the past to create a better future.”
But what he said actually meant this: Alabama is going to continue celebrating the Confederacy. No matter what other states are doing, we ain’t moving Confederate statues or removing the names of Confederate generals from schools or streets.
Did he explicitly say that? No.
But he may as well have. No other historic monuments were being altered or targeted for removal – at least not en mass across the nation.
In 2017, The New York Times published a map of cities that had moved or were planning to move Confederate monuments. Dozens of them, from Seattle to San Diego to San Antonio, Boston and Baltimore were listed.
Allen saw this and took a stand. Not in Alabama.
It didn’t matter that black folk and our supporters have been saying for years that these Confederate tributes were offensive. They ignored the historical facts we supplied them about the Confederacy’s direct connection to slavery and white supremacy.
Meanwhile, others across the nation had begun to listen.
In 2015, a self-identified white supremacist massacred nine African-American worshippers in the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. This crime was so chilling – and the killer’s connection to white supremacy so clear – that even conservative Republican Gov. Nikki Haley decided that South Carolina’s Confederate-influenced flag had to be removed from the top of the state capitol.
The Black Lives Matter movement also helped. BLM started as a social media hashtag – #BlackLivesMatter – after Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted in 2012. Distress and outrage followed, carrying into 2014 when a torrent of police killings of black males began.
Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile – all killed by police under controversial circumstances between 2014 and 2016. Multi-racial protests followed, and Confederate monuments started coming down.
Allen wasn’t having it. Not in Alabama. But he miscalculated.
Unwarranted police killings didn’t stop in 2016. Neither did the outrage about them.
Despite Allen’s 2017 legislation, monuments continued to come down in Alabama. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that 12 were removed in 2020, despite the $25,000 fine and legal threats from the Attorney General.
So in 2022, Allen has upped the ante. One of his new bills would make it a Class C felony to mark or damage a monument or a Class B felony if done during a riot. The Class C felonycarries a prison sentence of up to 10 years. The Class B felony could lead to 20 years behind bars.
His other bill requires governments that raze a historic building to ensure that its name is passed on to the building or park that replaces it. It also raises the fine from $25,000 to $5,000 per day and empowers the Attorney General to sue any government in violation.
Allen may get what he wants. But he and Alabama may suffer unintended consequences.
Confederate nostalgia isn’t good business. It makes Alabama look backward and traitorous. Some companies won’t want to do business in a state that whistles Dixie.
And based on the last Census, this isn’t likely to change.
Alabama’s population is become more diverse, according to the Census. The white population decreased from 68.5 percent in 2010 to 64.1 percent in 2020. Those who identify as multi-racial jumped to 5.1 percent from 1.5 percent. The percentage of Hispanic Alabamians grew from 3.9 percent to 5.3 percent.
A more diverse Alabama likely means an Alabama less tolerant of Confederate nostalgia.
Confederate tributes belong either on private property or in museums. No taxpayer dollars should be used to celebrate or commemorate a white supremacist government.
But for some reason, that’s what Allen and others are hell-bent on doing. They want these monuments to have prominence and the stamp of government approval. Negative optics be damned.
Why? Perhaps because of something else the old folks used to say.
Some folks will cut off their nose to spite their face.