Community members in Mobile have asked the Mobile City Council to remove a statue and rename a park honoring a priest who supported the confederacy and espoused racist, white supremacist rhetoric in his life.
The priest, named Father Abram J. Ryan, was a renowned poet and orator in the South and has multiple monuments honoring him throughout several southern states. On his statue, he is referenced as the “Poet-Priest of the Confederacy.”
Earlier this month, more than 230 community members signed a petition asking for the city council to remove Ryan’s statue. The officials received the petition and letter about removing the statue but there has not been a formal response to these calls yet.
Leo Denton, one of the organizers of the petition, told APR that he first noticed the statue during the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. Denton said he thought the statue was of a “saint” but after marching he realized it was of a Ryan who is a priest. After learning more about Ryan and his writings Denton was shocked at the racist and misogynistic ideas he wrote.
“I was quite surprised at just how racist he was,” Denton said. “And how ardent of a white supremacist he was.”
In a letter that was sent to Mobile’s City Council several links to Ryan’s writings were provided demonstrating his record of white supremacist ideology. For example, in a January 30, 1869, article Ryan wrote that the white race was superior to the Black race.
“We hold that the White Race is superior to the Black,” Ryan wrote. “…and that the Government of the United States and its several subordinate State and Municipal Governments belong to the white people of the land.”
Ryan’s statue was erected in 1913 in Mobile during Jim Crow meaning it was part of a tactic of intimidation against Black people. During the Jim Crow period of the early 1900s monuments to Confederates were established not to honor those figures but to re-enforce white supremacy.
Mobile previously removed a confederate statue in June 2020 but was fined $25,000 for removing the statue overnight as it was in violation of state law. Denton wondered why the city does not appear to have the same urgency in removing Ryan’s statue and renaming the park. Denton said he felt that Ryan’s statue was disrespectful to especially Black members in the community.
“You know, the statue kind of illustrates how little Black lives matter in Mobile,” Denton said. “And the reason I say that is because I don’t think anybody for a second would would consider that Mobile would have a statue of someone who advocated a pure black man’s government, where white people would be denied the right to hold office or to vote. I don’t think anybody for a second would have a statue of a person who described white people as a race whose rare characteristics are stupidity and ignorance.”
District 2 Councilmember William Carroll stated the monument would be removed at “some point” according to Denton. However, there is no timeline for when that removal would be.