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.
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.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org.