‘There is no shame in preserving history’: Protestors rally against Confederate monument removal


Melissa Brown | mbrown@al.comBy Melissa Brown | mbrown@al.com
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on July 18, 2015 at 3:30 PM, updated July 18, 2015 at 6:16 PM

More than 100 people rallied Saturday in Birmingham’s stifling heat to protest the proposed removal of a Civil War veterans memorial in Linn Park. “There is no shame in preserving the history of the Confederacy. Absolutely no shame whatsoever,” speaker Melvin Hasting told the crowd. Earlier this month, the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board unanimously approved a resolution – proposed by board member and former mayor Bernard Kincaid – to remove the monument and give it to a Confederate heritage group.

Board members agreed to ask city attorneys to research the issue and report back. The law department, led by Justice Ralph Cook, is in the process of diligently researching the matter, city officials said.

Just a day before the board met, Mayor William Bell expressed his personal objection to any monument that represented oppression of other groups, but said the final authority rested with the parks board. Hasting, a Cullman-based attorney, was a new celebrity among the gathered crowd after he filed suit against Governor Robert Bentley last week, challenging the Confederate flag removal at the state Capitol. Stepping up to the microphone to enthusiastic applause and cheers, Hasting urged the crowd to educate themselves on the issues and show up to civic meetings where flag or memorial removal might be discussed.

“Our voices need to be heard … If we start asking them questions, you will see that they will start backing down,” Hastings said, You have to start showing up, you have to take the fight to them.

Bystanders trickled in and out of the park throughout the rally, standing near the back of the crowd alongside two Birmingham police officers. One bystander, a black man who declined to give his name, said he finds the rallies and the flag offensive. A Vietnam veteran, the man said he doesn’t think the attitudes shown Saturday represent the “quality of life” his grandchildren should have in American in 2015.

“I’m thankful for my education. I thank God for that, because they really don’t realize. I pray for grace and mercy, because they’re too ignorant to know,” he said. “There’s a difference between education and indoctrination.”

Last week, a UAB assistant professor with a focus on public history and historic preservation told AL.com monument removal might “edit history.” Many municipalities across the U.S. are considering removing Confederate monuments. A Memphis city council committee voted unanimously to approve ordinances to remove a statue and the grave of Nathan Bedford Forrest from a public park, according to The Commercial Appeal.

An ideal solution, UAB professor Pamela Sterne King said, would be erecting another monument or a sign in Linn Park next to the Confederate memorial to give context about when and why it was built. It could also include information about recent events and the current controversy to demonstrate how public perception has changed over time.

“I’m conflicted over the monument because I certainly understand the sentiment around

[its removal],” King said. “But as a public historian, I’m really hesitant to remove permanent structures because they’re controversial or because they evoke negative understanding. I’m always going to want to keep public history intact in the public square.”

On Saturday, bystander Jacquelyn Hardy mingled in the crowd, speaking one-on-one to several participants.  Hardy, who is black, said she wanted to hear people’s reasoning behind keeping the monument and their perceptions of the Confederate flag. Several men told her they aren’t racist, and they think the KKK’s use of the flag is shameful. But their characterizations of the flag don’t ring true, she said.

“I do want to hear different individual sides, but all my life I saw that flag represent prejudice,” Hardy said. “I’m sorry, but that’s my perception. But I have listened.”

Supporters stayed for several hours, many talking among themselves as a woman circulated with a donation bucket.

“This is their last eulogy,” the veteran said, shaking his head as he left. “Look around you, it’s 2015.”