Piece by piece, authorities overnight began pulling down a 5-story-tall monument to Confederate troops that has stood for more than a century in Birmingham, Ala.
By the time the workers paused Tuesday morning, little was left of a spire that had become a lightning rod for controversy in recent years and a focal point for local protesters outraged by George Floyd‘s death last week in Minneapolis.
On Sunday, the obelisk — known formally as the Confederate Sailors and Soldiers monument — was the site of a speech from Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who pleaded with the crowd.
Some protesters had already vandalized the obelisk and toppled another statue in the park, this one of the former Confederate officer Charles Linn.
Woodfin asked that they refrain from trying to tear down the much larger monument — so that his government could do it instead.
“Allow me to finish the job for you,” the mayor told a crowd behind his mask and a megaphone. And he persuaded them to give him until midday Tuesday to pull the monument down.
“I wanted you to hear it directly from me. But I need you to stand down.”
On Monday, Woodfin declared a state of emergency and implemented a curfew for the city, citing the protests from the night before, during which the police arrested at least two dozen people.
Birmingham isn’t the only city reckoning with its Confederate past in the wake of Floyd’s death.
Since the release of a video showing the black man’s arrest in Minneapolis, during which a white officer plants a knee on Floyd’s neck, protesters in several cities and towns below the Mason-Dixon line have directed their frustration — and sometimes their vandalism — toward their local Confederate monuments.
In Alexandria, Va., a statue commemorating Confederate soldiers came down Tuesday morning. It was removed a month earlier than scheduled by the United Daughters of the Confederacy due to fears of vandalism, according to The Washington Post.
This likely isn’t the final chapter in the Birmingham monument’s story, which was knotty well before the latest spasm of unrest trained attentions back on it.
Woodfin’s predecessor, William Bell, ordered the memorial partly hidden with plywood screens in 2017, in the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va.
But Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall sued the city for violating a state law passed that same year, the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, which protects against the relocation or alteration of Confederate symbols that have been up for more than four decades.
A unanimous state Supreme Court decision last fall sided with the monument’s supporters, bringing the plywood down and assessing a fine of $25,000 against Birmingham.
Now, Marshall has threatened another lawsuit over the city’s move.
“Should the City of Birmingham proceed with the removal of the monument in question, based upon multiple conversations I have had today,” ,” the attorney general said in a statement issued Monday, “city leaders understand I will perform the duties assigned to me by the [Alabama Memorial Preservation] Act to pursue a new civil complaint against the City.”