How Birmingham can avoid a brawl

Jefferson County Justice is Blind Mural
Justice is Blind Mural at Jefferson County Courthouse

Our Alabama legislature screams bloody murder when the federal government passes legislation that overrides Alabama’s wishes.

Our legislators proclaim liberty and states’ rights—yet they rule our cities with an iron hand that deny them the ability to govern.

Gov. Kay Ivey just signed a bill requiring cities to get legislative approval for new occupational taxes, blocking a 1% tax passed by the Montgomery City Council last month.

In recent years, lawmakers passed bills to block a pay increase for the Birmingham City Council and later to block a minimum wage increase approved by that same body.

Lawmakers have also passed a law to prohibit cities and other government entities from moving historical monuments.

Birmingham responded to the restrictive monument bill by placing a plywood screen around a Confederate memorial in Linn Park.

A judge under the direction of the Alabama Supreme Court is requiring Birmingham to pay a $25,000 fine for obstructing the view of the monument.

Now Alabama senators are considering legislation that would increase the penalty to $10,000 a day.

If the bill passes, the city of Birmingham could face fines of $300,000 a month.

Birmingham’s not going to win this fight.

Birmingham’s options appear to be to remove the plywood, pay the fine, or spend a lot of money on a legal defense that it have already lost in the Alabama Supreme Court.

But there’s a much better option.

Jefferson County got it right

On April 23rd, 2018, I got a call from Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington inviting me to a special event at 11 am the next day. The event was the unveiling of the new “Justice is Blind” mural in the lobby at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Three years ago it appeared Jefferson County was about to become embroiled in a racial controversy that no one wanted.

There had been a mass shooting at a black Charleston, SC church by Dylann Roof, a self-described white supremacist—followed by a nationwide call to remove images deemed offensive and racist.

One of two original Jefferson County murals. Photo: Frank Couch
One of two original murals at the Jefferson County Courthouse (Photo: Frank Couch)

There are two long-standing murals in the lobby of the Jefferson County Courthouse created during the Jim Crow era that depict African Americans picking cotton and performing manual labor.

There was an immediate uproar to remove the murals.

But the Jefferson County Commission was determined not to be sucked into the controversy.

A mural committee was created and ultimately recommended the murals be expanded rather than removed.

County Commissioner Sandra Little Brown explained  “The majority (on the committee) said we can’t erase history. We can’t take them down. Let’s bring history up to date.”

The committee approved hiring Ronald McDowell of Tuskegee to create a new mural that would be more reflective of a modern day Jefferson County.

The “Justice is Blind mural” is a compilation of symbols that represent the county and justice system. It includes a black and white Lady Justice and bald eagles hovering over black and white judges. The mural also includes an American flag, the Jefferson County logo and the exterior of the courthouse.

The unveiling of the mural at the courthouse was a joyful event. A large diverse audience attended the celebration to hear speakers talk glowingly about the painting and how our community had come together.

Birmingham’s best option

Birmingham should consider following the lead of Jefferson County.

Mayor Woodfin and the City Council should uncover the Confederate monument at Lynn Park and build a new monument to balance our history.

Erect a monument of Martin Luther King, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, or the children from the Children’s Crusade.

Or possibly build a monument to represent the Birmingham of today—as Jefferson County did.

Some folks may say the state is protecting its citizens from bad legislation. But this is a democracy and the voters of each city have the power to remove politicians who pass unpopular laws.

Birmingham, let’s not get sucked into a brawl with our legislature.

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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8 thoughts on “How Birmingham can avoid a brawl”

  1. Regarding: Gov. Kay Ivey just signed a bill requiring cities to get legislative approval for new occupational taxes, blocking a 1% tax passed by the Montgomery City Council last month.

    Even though this was a reaction to out of control local government actions on Citizens / Taxpayers without their consent, it only puts the issue into other political hands whereby elected officials can pick winners and losers which is wrong on every level.

    The real fix now is to pass Legislation whereby ANY AND ALL TAXES INCLUDING BONDS AND WARRANTS that create massive debt for municipalities and Counties, (that for some strange reason don’t consider themselves municipalities to avoid compliance with select State Laws), require a vote of their Citizens / Tax payers thereby providing local control and accountability that everybody says they want. The reality is tax payers should have the only say in the matter. Unfortunately every tax increase and municipal debt is pushed by the few with no legitimate consent.

    Who is the brave Legislator who will push for fairness in taxation and debt paid for by Citizens / Taxpayers? I dare any of them to seize the moment!

    1. It’s just easier for the governor to do it her way which is better than giving a mayor autocratic control to pass a tax that is unpopular with the residents of that city plus those employed in the city but do not live in the city. I support the governors move until a law is passed to let the people decide if and when that ever happens.

      1. Me to. Just wondering what influences will come to bear on Legislators other than Citizens / Taxpayers. Maybe Special Interests / Donors / etc. then you are back to the same problem. No mandate from the people who voted you in office who are most affected.

  2. Well said David! We need not erase history, but we can put it into context with plaques or other appropriate signage. Let’s not spend money on attorneys fees and fines. Let’s spend the money on teaching the truth about slavery, Jim Crow, convict labor and the so-called “Lost Cause “.

  3. Why not remove the plywood AND the statue? If they hurry up and do this before the law with stiffer penalties passes, they cannot fine the City of Birmingham for removing the statue because it will already be gone when the law passes. Unless the law is retroactive.

  4. Good idea. One side point. Our brilliant founders mandated a republic in Article 4, Section 4 of the U. S. Constitution. So, contrary to popular propaganda, we do NOT have the mob rule of democracy–yet.

  5. David:
    Here is additional information about the artist you mentioned, Dr. Ronald Scott McDowell. He is a talented and prolific artist who has created much public art in Birmingham. He sculpted the statue of Miss Nina Miglionico at Linn Park. He created the “Foot Soldiers” statue at Kelly Ingram Park and the Eddie Kendrick and the Temptations statues on 4th Avenue North. He also drew the mural of faces in the lobby of the downtown library. Public art is a key method of memorializing significant people and events in history. I agree that Birmingham should invest in more contemporary public art to balance the stories from monuments which we have inherited from the past.

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