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Opinion | Memorial Preservation Act flies in the face of “states’ rights” ideology

The centralized state government is cracking down on the rights of its individual member cities.

Confederate Memorial Monument, on the state capitol grounds., commemorates Alabamians who fought in the American Civil War for the Confederacy. STOCK

Growing up as the descendant of a Confederate soldier myself, I’m all too familiar with the argument that the Civil War was fought, not over slavery, but states’ rights.

The argument remains a standard fallback of Confederate sympathizers.

Let’s give them that argument for a moment, even if it doesn’t hold water on further inspection.

Wednesday, Alabama will consider changes to the Memorial Preservation Act, which currently assesses a $25,000 fine on any Alabama city that dare more or remove a memorial that has been in place for 40 years or more. It does’t say Confederate monument, but the bill is designed specifically to address the fears of Confederate sympathizers that woke liberals are coming to “erase our history.”

Apparently, that price isn’t steep enough. 

The City of Montgomery, which is both the Cradle of the Confederacy and the Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, decided to take the $25,000 hit to change the name of Jeff Davis Avenue to Fred D Gray Avenue. Jefferson Davis was the president of the short-lived Confederate States of America; Fred Gray was a prominent lawyer in the Civil Rights Movement.

So now the Legislature is back to fix its penalty to a degree that no more Montgomerys can flout the law—the change would charge cities $5,000 in perpetuity until they replace the statue, or rename the street in honor of its longstanding namesake.

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The centralized government of the State of Alabama is cracking down on the rights of its individual member cities. If states’ rights were worth fighting the deadliest war on our soil, why then is the Confederacy being honored with an oppressive law limiting the rights of smaller local governments?

There is one obvious major difference between the two scenarios: the Civil War started because the federal government wanted to control how states treated Black people.

This law wants to restrict how cities treat marble people.

And stone people. 

And monuments.

And roads and bridges and buildings and parks.

The measure is ironically being taken up alongside a bill that would prohibit divisive concepts from being taught in classrooms, including that one race is superior to another.

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Yet children, Black and White, will be taken on field trips to see these Confederate monuments. Some won’t have to leave the very school they sit in to be reminded of those great Confederate leaders who fought so hard against their right to sit in that very school.

What will they be told about the Confederacy?

Jefferson Davis himself laid the cornerstone to the Confederate monument on Capitol Hill, honoring those who died fighting for the fledgling country against the Union.

With that in mind, I’ll end with a reminder of just what the “cornerstone” of the Confederacy entailed, as spoken by Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander H. Stephens on March 21, 1861:

“The prevailing ideas entertained by (Thomas Jefferson) and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away … Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error …

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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