The Invisible Obelisk in Linn Park

by Just Juan

“Targeting only the obelisk in Linn Park under the premise of removing things that honor the tradition of slavery or the tradition of suppressing other races in Birmingham is…the textbook example of grandstanding” – AnJuan Thomas

Earlier today, the Birmingham Park & Recreation Board voted unanimously to approve a resolution that includes removing an obelisk from the city’s most prominent public park. This vote comes after years of protests from Frank Matthews, arguably the most complainiest person in the history of the City of Birmingham, Alabama. And yeah, I’m pretty sure I just made up the word complainiest. There is no doubt that this action comes on the heels of what happened in Charleston, South Carolina 2 weeks ago when 21-year-old Dylann Roof sat in attendance to a Bible study session at the Emanuel AME Church before killing 9 parishioners. The egregious crime set out somewhat of a regional reckoning regarding the Confederate States of America…particularly, the rebel flag and other symbols of the failed nation.

With all of the sudden unrest over the Confederacy, the whole Matthews dilemma of getting the obelisk removed from Linn Park gained a lot of support from the political machine…most of them embattled and fighting to retain their power. I’m particularly irked by this decision from the Park & Recreation Board—or more specifically, Mayor William Bell because even Helen Keller can see that his fingerprints are all over this—because of the inconsistency.

The obelisk—officially called the Confederate Soldiers & Sailors Monument—is a 50-foot tall sandstone monument that sits at the south end of Linn Park. It was given to the City of Birmingham in April 1905 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to honor the state’s Confederate veterans. That monument, as of today, has stood untouched for 105 years in Birmingham’s most prominent park. Now there is action to remove it?!?

As a veteran of the armed forces—in a wartime era no less, though as a representative of the modern-day Union—it bothers me to no end that the City is removing a structure erected by citizens in memoriam to fallen servicemembers. Make no mistake about it, I totally get why the City of Birmingham is doing this: they don’t want the stain of what the Confederacy represented on public grounds…not after the protests and standoffs that are heating up in Columbia, South Carolina. Whether it’s the right decision to ax a monument that 9 out of every 10 citizens in the city didn’t know was in the park for their entire lifetimes is subjective. But in a city that is likely to be at least 75% Black—and maybe even close to 80% Black—at the next census in 5 years, this isn’t a surprise. In a city where 35% of the total population was born in the Civil Rights Era or earlier, this isn’t a surprise. What irks me, in particular, is the inconsistency of this whole scenario. Mayor Bell, the crony that he is, said in his own words: “any monument that commemorates the tradition of slavery, the tradition of suppression of a race should be removed”. Look, I have no problem with that if it is applied equally across the board to everything that applies…a concept that is extremely critical in a city that was once branded “the most segregated city in America” back during the height of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. However, the thing is that the only target here is the Confederate memorial in Linn Park. In the city’s Westside is the massive Arlington Antebellum Home, a slavery-era plantation house that the City purchased and maintains as a “historical site”. It should be absolutely noted that the builder of the home and original owner was a racist judge who had slaves—slaves that built the plantation. Is its existence not a commemoration of the tradition of slavery? Or does the estimated $500000 in annual revenue it brings the City or its status on the National Register of Historic Places qualify it for exemption? Even looking past the Arlington property, what about the statue of Bull Conner’s dogs attacking Blacks in Kelly-Ingram Park? That’s literally the symbol that made Birmingham the most segregated city in the country in the 1960s. Does that not commemorate the tradition of suppression of a race? Or is it exempt because it sits yards away from the famed Birmingham Civil Rights Institute of the universally recognized 16th Street Baptist Church? Or since the obelisk is at play here, what about Linn Park itself? Its namesake—Charles Linn—was an officer in the Confederate navy and the popular opinion amongst Black Americans is that the Confederacy only fought to maintain the “tradition of slavery”. Shouldn’t the park be restored to its original name—Woodrow Wilson Park—or renamed completely? Or is it exempt because it was named Linn Park in the 1980s, with the city’s 1st Black mayor signing off on it? Let’s take it a little bit further: what about the Linn-Henley Research Library that also sits in Linn Park? Sure, it’s the 1st and obviously oldest library facility in the city but it was named after 2 men who for the Confederacy—the aforementioned Linn and John Henley. Shouldn’t it be renamed? Or does its historical value to the Birmingham Public Library system exempt it?

I can go on and on and on and on about places in Birmingham that are named after individuals tied to the Confederacy. I can go on and on and on about places in Birmingham that have ties to slavery and suppression of Blacks and other minorities in the city. But you think the complainiest dude in city history is clamoring for those places to be torn down or erased? Hell no. This is 100% a political play…a flavor of the moment play, actually. And it’s crazy that so many people up at home are jumping on this bandwagon because I can attest that a great many who have commented about it on Facebook have taken pictures posted up against the obelisk. A great many more didn’t even know it was a Confederate memorial even though the words are on the monument.

As far as I’m concerned, the City can remove the obelisk but they also need to move to rid themselves of every other remembrance of slavery or suppression of Blacks in a city that is ⅔ Black and growing. Otherwise, this is exactly what I posted as a reply to a friend’s Facebook post: a textbook example of political grandstanding.

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