Type to search

Government - State National News

Alabama City fined after renaming Confederate Street after Civil Rights Attorney


In Montgomery, Alabama, civil rights attorney Fred Gray recently attended a dedication ceremony where a street was renamed in his honor for his work during the civil rights movement. What should have been seen as an honor for Gray and something uplifting for the community is being challenged.

The state Attorney General in Alabama says its capital city must pay a fine or face a lawsuit for removing the Confederate president’s name from an avenue and renaming it after Gray. The AG says that the city of Montgomery violated a state law protecting Confederate monuments and other longstanding memorials. 

Montgomery Mayor, Steven Reed, who is Black, said changing the name was the right thing to do. “It was important that we show, not only our residents here, but people from afar that this is a new Montgomery.” 

The road, which was previously known as Jeff Davis Avenue, was changed to Fred D. Gray Avenue, who grew up on the same street. Gray represented Rosa Parks and others in cases that fought Deep South segregation practices. Gray was also dubbed by Martin Luther King Jr. as “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”

The AG’s office sent a letter Nov. 5 to Montgomery officials saying the city must pay a $25,000 fine by Dec. 8, “otherwise, the attorney general will file suit on behalf of the state.”

Reed, the city’s first Black mayor of Montgomery, says it was his suggestion to rename the street after Gray. “We want to honor those heroes that have fought to make this union as perfect as it can be. When I see a lot of the Confederate symbols that we have in the city, it sends a message that we are focused on the lost cause as opposed to those things that bring us together under the Stars and Stripes.”  

Alabama’s capital city is often referred to as the “Cradle of the Confederacy” because it is where representatives of states met in 1861 to form the Confederacy, and the city served as the first Confederate capital. The city also played a key role in the civil rights movement — including the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 

With more Black people being elected across the south, new city leadership immediately began conversations around taking down Confederate monuments and other references that communities of color were forced to endure for decades. 

Those previously in power never saw, understood, or cared about the fear and terror these memorials imposed on people of color after confederacy names were placed on streets, buildings, and monuments near their homes, schools, and churches. With the political shift on a local level, those who saw their power dwindling and changes to these honors coming quickly enacted laws to protect these confederate memorabilia. They enacted the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, created in 2017, which forbids the removal or alteration of monuments and memorials — including a memorial street or memorial building — that have stood for more than 40 years. While the law does not specifically mention memorials to the Confederacy, lawmakers approved the measure which covers these items. Violations carry a $25,000 fine. 

Those who enacted this new law offered no leadership or forethought on why it is time to correct some of these past wrongs in our history, such as celebrating the terrorism of the civil war and those associated with it.  When these memorials were enacted, Black people had little to no power to challenge them. Now that power in many of these cities in the south have shifted, those who enacted these memorials, or support those who did, have put laws in place to ensure that they can never be changed or removed, regardless of who is in power. 

Alabama is not alone in enacting laws to protect civil war monuments. As public opposition to symbols of the Confederacy has grown, Georgia was one of several states that moved quickly to protect them. These new laws throughout the South are blocking local governments from removing statues, monuments and other markers from public view.

Montgomery is not the only community dealing with the challenges of monuments and other tributes named for the confederacy. In our community of South Cobb County, Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, who is Black, led the efforts to name a new community park after the civil war, despite public outcry against it from the community. Cupid’s ode to the Civil War battle in defense of the confederacy has angered many both Black and White members of our South Cobb community. 

Several Alabama cities have just opted to take down Confederate monuments and pay the $25,000 fine.

Reed said they knew this challenge was a possibility when the city renamed the street and are considering taking the matter to court. “The other question we have to answer is: Should we pay the fine when we see it as an unjust law? We’re certainly considering taking the matter to court because it takes away home rule for municipalities.” 

In the meantime, donors from across the country have offered to step up and pay the fine for the city of Montgomery.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *