Confederate Soldiers & Sailors Monument
The Confederate Soldiers & Sailors Monument was a 52-foot-tall sandstone obelisk located at the southern entrance of Linn Park, at the terminus of 20th Street North. It was given to the city by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1905 and dismantled in 2020.
In 1894 the park, then known as Capitol Park, held no other monuments and was decorated only by the Hudgins' fountain at its center. In anticipation of the 1894 Reunion of United Confederate Veterans in Birmingham a campaign to initiate the erection of a large monument was initiated.
In a March 11 editorial The Birmingham News proposed, "Let us lay the cornerstone of a great Birmingham Confederate monument in the presence of the grizzled warrior, who will be our guests; let Commander John B. Gordon set it amid the loud shouts of brave men and the happy tears of prayerful women while the children learn that the glory of their forefathers is their most precious heritage."
Architect Charles Wheelock was commissioned to design a suitable monument of limestone, and estimated that the cost for the base alone would be about $800. That amount was raised in four days from a subscription campaign publicized in the News. Its publisher, Rufus Rhodes, was appointed chair of a joint committee of Camp W. J. Hardee of the United Confederate Veterans and Camp Clayton of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to supervise construction. Bids were opened on March 21 and a contract for $1,020 was awarded to Joseph Meighan of Oak Hill Marble & Stone Works. At the urging of Mayor David Fox the Birmingham Board of Aldermen approved the use of Capitol Park as the site of the monument and appointed a committee to work with the planners to select the specific location.
Once the spot was chosen, Fox presided at a brief ceremony, baptizing the site with a bottle of wine. Rhodes was granted the honor of striking the first blow with a pick. The Dedication of the cornerstone for the base was scheduled for April 26, a date observed in Alabama as Confederate Decoration Day, the anniversary of General Joseph Johnston's surrender to Union General William Sherman at Bennett Place, North Carolina in 1865.
At the dedication ceremony Rhodes introduced UCV Commander-in-Chief Stephen D. Lee, the featured speaker at the ceremony. Lee ended his speech extolling the virtue of the idealized Confederate martyr with, "Palsied be the tongue that would cast a slur upon his memory and recreant is the sone who does not glory such a sire."
The laying of the cornerstone was conducted according to "Masonic ritual", which included the placement of a copper time capsule. According to contemporary reports, a sealed box containing a Bible, a Confederate flag, a bronze medal honoring the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, several newspapers and rosters of Confederate organizations was installed. Another description listed "newspapers, coins, letters, flags, portraits and other articles."
Three young girls, Carrie Cobbs (dressed in white), Nellie Johnston (clad in red), and Lucille Lane (in blue) poured the "wages of nourishment" (corn, oil and wine) onto the cornerstone as it was set by grandmaster Francis Pettus. When he declared it properly set there was a joyous round of applause. Following a benediction, the band struck up "Dixie" as the assembled crowd dispersed.
Over the next few years, the plinth remained empty. After the Spanish-American War concluded in August 1898 the city installed a surplus artillery piece from that conflict on top of it.
In 1900, at the behest of Jennie Rountree, Birmingham's John Pelham Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, organized in 1896, took up the challenge of completing the Confederate monument. Mrs A. A. Clisby, president of the chapter, appointed Mary Scott Taliaferro, Mrs J. U. Hardeman, Mrs R. H. Carter, and Mrs Charles G. Brown to a committee to raise funds. The committee organized a week-long bazaar in the City Market on the ground floor of Birmingham City Hall. Clisby's successors carried the torch and made annual appeals for funds through the Birmingham News.
On May 30, 1901 the Pelham Chapter, in a meeting at the Florence Hotel specially called by Mrs Clisby, passed a formal resolution requesting the donation of a "large shaft of white marble", described as, "the largest shaft of pure white marble ever quarried south of the Ohio or the Potomac river," which the Alabama Marble & Stone Co. had unearthed from the Gantt Quarry in Talladega County and exhibited at the 1900 Alabama State Fair. They stated that they would "see that the stone is properly carved as a memorial to their buried dead at Oak Hill cemetery and mounted on their pedestal resting in Capitol Park. Shareholder Frank Evans, answering on behalf of the company, stated that, "the marble shaft is at your disposal for the purposes indicated, so far as we are concerned," and added that "the intrinsic value of this shaft is state by experts to be $2000."
In October of that year, at Clisby's last meeting as president, the Pelham chapter discussed the status of the memorial project. They estimated that they would need to raise $300 to have the shaft, then described as 41 feet long, engraved, polished, and erected on the existing pedestal. Additional donations would be needed to clad the pedestal in marble to match. They planned to appeal to Mayor Mel Drennen and Commercial Club president Culpepper Exum for funds.
Later the Daughters' marble block, described as 47 feet long and 16 inches square, was examined by stone masons and the state geologist and found to be inadequate for the planned memorial. A new committee was organized by chapter president Evie Sloss Taliferro to raise funds for a larger, more expensive shaft.
In October 1904 Camp Hardee voted to contribute $500 toward the efforts of the Daughters and Sons of the Confederacy, raising the overall fund to $1,700. Some commenters were, "not so sure but that the expenditure of only $1,700 will not be more of a humiliation than an honor," compared to the grandeur of the large monument on the grounds of the Alabama state capitol, erected at a cost of more than $30,000.
In the event, more contributions did arrive, and once $4,000 was raised, the Pelham Chapter, now with Mrs Rountree as its president, commissioned stone contractor L. N. Archer of Archer & Clapp to design, fabricate and install the obelisk.
Archer's design, presented to the group on October 19, 1904 was unanimously praised. He recommended a shaft 42 feet high, made exclusively of Alabama marble. According to an account of the presentation, "the form of a shaft is considered especially appropriate by the Daughters." The shaft would be "encircled about midway by laurel wreaths,"
He gave them a "conservative estimate" of $4,000 as the value of the work (including $1,000 for the marble already procured for the project), but submitted a bid just under $2,000, "to aid the ladies and to keep the contract within the hands of a local firm". He anticipated beginning work on the monument within 30 days.
The completed monument was formally dedicated on April 26, 1905, now observed for the first time, statewide as "Confederate Memorial Day". A grand parade of over 1,000 people, including the entire student body of Birmingham High School, the corps of cadets from Howard College, the Birmingham Police Department and Birmingham Fire Department, numerous "carriages and tally-hos," and several military bands, made its way from Jefferson County Courthouse to the park. Jennie Rountree introduced her committee chair, Mrs Brown, by saying, "The strength of that shaft, fifty-two feet high, stands as evidence of the united strength of Pelham Chapter, the members of which have stood shoulder to shoulder, side by side, caring ever for the needs of the less fortunate who fought for Southern rights, honoring with our cross of bronze the Confederate soldier wherever found, and strewing flowers over the graves of those who have gone beyond. You have met with us here today to witness the completion of our work in commemoration of the deeds of valor to the entire Confederacy, and on behalf of our chapter, I present to you the chairman of our monument committee, Mrs Charles G. Brown."
Brown then presented the monument to the State of Alabama and to the City of Birmingham. Lieutenant Governor Russell Cunningham and Mayor Mel Drennen graciously accepted the gift with speeches of their own. General George P. Harrison, Commander of the United Confederate Veterans of Alabama, gave the concluding address to rounds of raucous applause punctuated by the "rebel yell" from fellow veterans. After the conclusion of the ceremony, the crowd processed up to Oak Hill Cemetery to decorate the graves of 45 Confederate dead.
- (south face)
TO THE CONFEDERATE SOLDIER & SAILOR
ERECTED BY PELHAM CHAPTER No. 67
DAUGHTERS OF THE CONFEDERACY
APRIL 26, 1905
- (north face)
"THE MANNER OF THEIR
DEATH, WAS THE CROWNING
GLORY OF THEIR LIVES."
- (west face)
A relief sculpture of an anchor
- (east face)
A relief sculpture of crossed sabers and a musket
The crossed sabers were intended as a recognition of the Confederate cavalry. The muskets represented infantry units and the anchor represented the C.S. Navy. Balls at the corners of the pedestal represented the artillery corps.
The words attributed to Davis quote a letter he wrote to the Committee of Chattanooga Monument dated April 5, 1877, published in the The Wilmington Morning Star on May 22 of that year.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy organized the erection of numerous Confederate monuments across the Southern United States as part of a coordinated effort to cultivate honor on behalf of men who served the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War. The mythology that they promoted purposefully obliterated any notion of treason or rebellion on behalf of the seceding states; misattributed the causes of the war to abstract ideals far removed from the protection of the South's dependence on slavery; and glorified, in particular, the sense of duty that supposedly motivated the volunteers who took up arms against the United States during the conflict that they insisted be called neither a rebellion or a Civil War, but a "War Between the States."
United Confederate Veterans commander-in-chief George P. Harrison was the featured speaker at the Birmingham monument's dedication in April 1905. He proclaimed that the soldiers and sailors who fought for the Confederacy were true patriots for defending "the right of a state to be free," and those who survived the war, for protecting their homeland from "the carpet-bagger and the hideous spectre of a threatened race equality."
Art historian Erin Thompson has connected Confederate monuments in general, and the two periods when construction of the Birmingham monument was most urgently pursued, with periods of labor unrest in the city, and specifically with the actions of racially integrated labor unions. The praise offered by business and factory owners to the dutiful, obedient private soldier underscored a message that sacrifice demanded of the laboring classes would be rewarded if they remained loyal to their superiors.
The artillery piece from the Spanish-American War which had briefly occupied the monument's pedestal was left lying on its side in the park when the shaft was erected. Its relocation was discussed by the Board of Aldermen's park committee in June 1905 and through a formal resolution was not passed, it was expected that it would be set up at Five Points Circle.
In April 1929 a contingent from the Boston Chamber of Commerce stopped in Birmingham on Memorial Day and brought a floral wreath to lay at the Confederate Monument. Vice president E. C. Johnson spoke, saying "it is my privilege to place here this silent tribute to the glorious dead of the Confederacy." Birmingham News reporter W. J. Boles noted that, "A people once divided is reunited and are going forward with the one purpose of building a greater, a better and a happier nation; a people welded together by the common ties of brotherhood and loyalty to country, with their eyes set on a future of social well-being and a nation of contented and prosperous people."
The possibility of removing the monument was implicit in the 1919 proposal by architects Frank Hartley Anderson, William Warren and Eugene Knight for a Memorial Civic Center that would serve as a comprehensive memorial with an emphasis on the recently-ended "Great War". During his visit for the Olmsted Brothers' 1925 report and recommendations for "A Park System for Birmingham" landscape architect W. B. Marquis wrote that "The Confederate Monument located on the axis of 20th St. at the south end of the park probably must be retained although there may be some possibility of changing its position." The firm, delayed by uncertainties about the designs for a new Birmingham Public Library and Jefferson County Courthouse, never presented a detailed plan for redesigning what was, by then, renamed Woodrow Wilson Park. In their report they merely recommended that the park "is generally considered as a possible civic center and should, if possible, be so planned and developed."
In 2015, in the wake of a mass shooting at an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, activist Frank Matthews and others called for the monument to be removed on the grounds that its depiction of deadly weapons alongside quotes from Jefferson Davis were offensive, and that its sentiment has nothing to do with Birmingham, which was founded six years after Lee's surrender. The Birmingham Park and Recreation Board voted on July 1 to pursue relocating the monument by consulting with attorneys and with the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
A group called "Save our South" filed a lawsuit against the Park Board and City Council seeking a restraining order to prevent the board from removing the memorial. Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Mike Graffeo dismissed the suit in November.
During the Alabama State Legislature's 2016 session, State Senator Gerald Allen of Tuscaloosa introduced a bill he called the "Alabama Heritage Protection Act" which would "prohibit the relocation, removal, alteration, renaming, or other disturbance of certain commemorative statues, monuments, memorials, or plaques which are located on public property," without being granted an express waiver from the state legislature. The act, which would also prevent the renaming of public buildings, streets, bridges and parks, made an exception for any such removals undertaken for transportation projects. The bill passed the Senate and a House committee, but did not come to a vote in the House during that session. It was brought back in 2017 and passed both houses of the legislature. It was signed into law by Governor Kay Ivey on May 24 as the "Alabama Memorial Preservation Act".
On August 15, 2017, in the wake of a violent rally of white nationalists gathered to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, Mayor Bell ordered that the monument should be covered and walled off until a legal means of removing it could be established. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall then filed suit against the city, claiming that the action violated the recently-passed law. A hearing in that case was held on April 13. 2018 before Judge Graffeo. He issued a ruling shortly before his January 2019 retirement from the bench voiding the 2017 law on the basis that it attempted to restrict the right of the citizens of Birmingham to speak collectively through their city government, and that it deprived the city of the right of due process. Activist Frank Matthews responded to the ruling by calling for the Birmingham Board of Parks and Recreation to remove the monument immediately.
Marshall appealed Graffeo's ruling to the Alabama Supreme Court, which reversed Graffeo, instructing him to order the city to remove the barricade and pay a $25,000 fine. The court stated that the barricade negated the monument's intent, saying that, "Members of the public passing through Linn Park could have no way of knowing what the marble shaft rising from behind the plywood screen was intended to memorialize," and further ruled that municipalities do not enjoy the rights guaranteed by the constitution to individuals. The city filed a petition for a re-hearing, but it was denied.
Vandalism and removal
The statue was significantly damaged and defaced with hand tools, power tools, and spray paint during riots on the night of May 31, 2020, coinciding with national protests in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Attempts to topple the obelisk were unsuccessful. Egyptologist and UAB professor Sarah Parcak took the opportunity to tweet out some tips on, "how to [safely] pull down an obelisk," that, "might be masquerading as a racist monument." Mayor Randall Woodfin came to the park and told the crowd that he would finish the job they started within 24 hours. Other monuments in the park were also damaged before police cleared the park shortly after 10:00 PM. The city enforced a curfew the following night.
The next day, Monday June 1, coincidentally a state holiday honoring Jefferson Davis, Marshall issued a statement affirming that he would file suit under the state law in pursuit of a fine, which he clarified was, "a one-time assessment of $25,000." That evening, during a citywide emergency curfew, the monument was removed from the park. Woodfin said that the cost to the city for the work of removing it was $1, but did not identify the contractor due to fears of backlash. A GoFundMe campaign was launched by White Clergy for Black Lives Matter to reimburse any costs and potential state penalties for removing the monument. The campaign received more than $60,000 in less than 24 hours. Organizers pledged to forward donations above that amount to Faith in Action Alabama to help eliminate systemic racism in the state. A seprate GoFundMe campaign was launched by the Penny Foundation later that night to address the same costs as well as, "the erection of a new monument."
The city does not intend to destroy the historical monument, and is storing it at an undisclosed location until a determination is made about where it should go. The Mayor's office has made attempts to contact the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, as well as other organizations, about taking possession of the monument, but no agreement has been reached. Any artifacts recovered from the monument will also be preserved.
- " Letter from Ex-President Davis." (May 22, 1877) The Wilmington Morning Star. p. 2
- "Monument to the Confederate Dead" (May 31, 1901) The Birmingham Age-Herald, p. 5
- "The Daughters of Confederacy" (October 3, 1901) The Birmingham Age-Herald, p. 5
- Walker, Annie Kendrick (October 20, 1904) "Birmingham Daughters Accept Design for the Confederate Monument" The Birmingham Age-Herald, p. 6
- "Daughters and Sons of the Confederacy and the United Confederate Veterans to Build Monument." (November 10, 1904) Jones Valley Times, p. 1
- "History of the Confederate Monument" (April 26, 1905) The Birmingham News, p. 3
- "Confederate Monument is Unveiled in Capitol Park" (April 27, 1905) The Birmingham Age-Herald, p. 5, 8
- "Confederate Monument at Birmingham" (June 1905) Confederate Veteran. Vol. 13, No. 6, p. 249
- "The Birmingham Confederate Monument" (August 1908) Confederate Veteran. Vol. 16, No. 8, p. 422
- "New Englanders Honor Southern Dead" (April 27, 1929) The Birmingham News, p. 1
- Sulzby, James F. Jr (1945) Birmingham Sketches From 1871 Through 1921. Birmingham: Birmingham Printing Company, pp. 133-136
- "City–25 years ago–was host to its last Confederate reunion." (May 20, 1951) The Birmingham News, p. 68
- "Looking Back–Monument cornerstone laid, 1894) (May 24, 1959) The Birmingham News, p. 29
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- Crenshaw, Solomon Jr (April 13, 2018) "Questions Raised About Legal Protections for Historic Monuments in Court Hearing Over Linn Park’s Plywood Screen" BirminghamWatch
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- Hester, Jessica Leigh (June 5, 2020) "How an Infamous Confederate Obelisk Finally Came Down" Atlas Obscura
- Thompson, Erin L. (2022) Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America's Public Monuments. ISBN 9780393867671
- Take Down Birmingham's Confederate Monument on GoFundMe
- Monumental. on GoFundMe