For a Civil Rights Hero, 90, a New Battle Unfolds on His Childhood Street

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In January 2019, the Jefferson Circuit Court ruled in favor of the city, arguing that the state law violated a municipality’s right to free speech. That fall, however, the Alabama Supreme Court unanimously reversed that ruling, effectively ending legal challenges to the act at the state level.

Nevertheless, a growing number of local officials have proved willing to break the law and pay the $25,000 penalty. In Birmingham, the Democratic Mayor Randall Woodfin ordered the removal of the Soldiers and Sailors monument one week after the killing of George Floyd in May. He argued that the fine was less costly than continued civil unrest.

In Lowndes County, whose population is almost 75 percent African-American, county commissioners voted unanimously this year to remove a Confederate memorial that for decades stood in front of the courthouse in Hayneville. “I knew we were breaking the law, but I just thought it was something we had to do,” said Dickson Farrior, 72, the commissioner who first pushed to remove the monument. “It represented white supremacy, and we don’t need that.”

Mr. Farrior, who is one of two white men on the commission and has represented his district since 1985, said the county set up a GoFundMe page to help pay the fine, but was pleasantly surprised when a local couple volunteered to cover the $25,000 themselves.

“I don’t know whether the Legislature had in mind that, in effect, you can pay to change your monuments,” said Paul Horwitz, a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law.

Still, Mr. Horwitz said, a drumbeat of actions like Mr. Reed’s and Mr. Farrior’s could add a layer of pressure for legislators to reconsider the act — or at least “amend it in a way that allows for more public discussion.”

At a minimum, the state can most likely expect more challenges from Mr. Reed, who recently formed a committee of historians and community leaders to review the names of other public spaces across Montgomery.

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