TUSKEGEE, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama judge has paved the way for officials to remove a Confederate monument placed a century ago at the center of a historic, majority-Black city as part of a "park for white people."
Since 1909, the Confederate monument has stood in the center of Tuskegee, a city famous for Tuskegee University and known as the training ground for Black pilots in World War II. The city's population is now more than 93% Black. The monument has been a target of recent protests and vandalism attempts. The Macon County Commission filed a lawsuit to regain control of the land, which is the first step toward removing the statue.
The monument was erected at a time when white supremacy reigned — and pro-Confederate groups across the South erected Civil War memorials to honor rebel troops and portray the cause of the slave-holding South as noble. Hundreds of rebel monuments were taken down in recent years as they came to be seen as symbols of racial oppression against Black people.
Circuit Judge Steven Perryman on Thursday ruled that the site should revert to the Macon County Commission under the terms of a 1906 deed that gave the space to the Tuskegee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy for the purpose of "maintaining a park for white people and maintaining a monument to the memory of the Confederate soldiers." Perryman said there was no evidence the space had been maintained as a segregated park so the land should revert to the county under deed terms that said the county would get the land back if it wasn't used for those purposes.
The judge gave the Tuskegee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy 60 days to retrieve and remove the monument. The group could appeal the ruling.
A 2017 Alabama law meant to protect Confederate monuments imposes a $25,000 penalty for removing or altering any monument that’s been in place for 40 or more years. However, a number of local governments have opted to take down Confederate structures and pay the law’s fine.
Macon County Commission Chairman Louis Maxwell praised the decision. He said they needed to answer the question of who owns the property before taking any action about the monument. Maxwell said he hopes the statue will be gone by the spring festival that celebrates George Washington Carver, the famed 19th century scientist and Tuskegee professor.
“We will celebrate the removal of this statue. We will celebrate this decision,” Maxwell said in a press conference.
He asked county residents to be patient over the next 60 days.
“Don’t tear it down," Maxwell said. “Don’t deface it. Give them a chance to move it.”