Attorney General Steve Marshall announced Tuesday afternoon the city of Mobile violated state law by removing the statue of Confederate Adm. Raphael Semmes from its pedestal near the intersection of Government and Royal streets June 4 and has agreed to pay a $25,000 fine.
The statue, which was taken down by Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s orders earlier this month, has been moved to the History Museum of Mobile.
In a statement, Stimpson said the statue was moved from storage in a city facility to the museum.
“The museum staff received the statue and will develop a plan to protect, preserve and display it within the museum,” the statement read.
While the statue has been moved to the museum, Director Meg McCrummen Fowler wrote in an email that it would not be on display immediately, due to required conservation work and the creation of interpretive materials related to it.
“We haven’t determined a definite location yet; deciding where and how the statue is displayed will be a careful, deliberate and collaborative process,” she wrote. “Museums afford the opportunity to contextualize the history of both the subject and the monument itself. Ultimately, we want to create a space that allows for productive, community-oriented conversations about our shared history.”
In the statement, Stimpson said he believes the statue is in the correct hands.
“I am confident that the museum staff will not only preserve the statue, but place it into the appropriate historic context,” the statement reads. “We are grateful for their partnership.”
The decision to move the statue to the museum comes after Marshall asked the city for more information regarding the statue’s removal from its pedestal near the intersection of Royal and Government streets and its impact on the 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, which forbids cities and counties from taking down memorials, like the Semmes statue, that are more than 40 years old. The act comes with a $25,000 fine.
In a news release Monday, Marshall’s office said it determined the city violated the law.
“On June 4, the city of Mobile removed a 120-year-old statue of Admiral Raphael Semmes from public property within the city,” Marshall said in the release. “Now that the city has acknowledged its intent to remove the monument permanently, the facts surrounding the removal and a plain reading of the law led me to determine that the act was violated.”
The city has agreed to pay the fine without a court order, Marshall’s office confirmed. Stimpson told reporters he’s confident that at least two GoFundMe pages set up to pay the fine will raise enough money in the month the city has to pay it. One of those pages, White Clergy and Citizens for One Mobile, has already raised more than $5,000.
Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) Admiral Raphael Semmes Camp #11 believe the statue belongs to them, as it was paid for by an earlier version of the camp’s ladies auxiliary group. In a letter written to members of the Mobile City Council and obtained by Lagniappe, they made their case. At a pre-conference meeting Council President Levon Manzie said he was sent a copy of the letter from Joe Ringhoffer.
In the letter, the SCV group argued the statue was gifted to the city by their ancestors in 1900 and should be returned.
“As explained below, we are the immediate successors to the original owners who designed it, paid for it and donated it to the city, with the obvious and clear good faith agreement that it be on public, not restricted, display to the people of Mobile,” the letter reads. “This removal took place in the dead of night and our camp contacted the mayor’s office within six hours requesting the return of the statue to our possession. Communications have continued with the mayor and his staff ever since regarding this request. In light of this clear and intentional violation of the public trust, the monument should be returned to the successor of the original owner, specifically to Raphael Semmes Camp #11 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.”
A spokesman for the SCV group, who asked to not be named publicly, wrote in a text message that Stimpson has not spoken with the group since June 5.
“As far as it going to the museum, the mayor continues to break state law by not replacing the Semmes statue in its original location,” the spokesman wrote. “Will adding context require additional fines to the one that should be incurred for its removal?”
Councilwoman Bess Rich said in a pre-conference meeting that the fate of the statue should be discussed publicly and councilors should consider the SCV group’s request to allow them to take ownership of the statue.
“I do think it’s worth the exposure to hear their request,” she said. “I hope the council listens to the request. I don’t know if it’ll pass.”
Taking a swipe at Stimpson for the way he handled the statue’s removal, Rich said she was “disappointed” she didn’t have an opportunity to hear about the plans before they were executed.
“The ‘I’s were dotted and the ‘T’s were crossed without the community at the table,” she said.
Following the pre-conference meeting, Stimpson said there was a great deal of public discussion about the statue, in the form of protests, before he ordered it removed.
“I don’t know if Mrs.Rich was listening, but we were,” Stimpson told reporters. “I believe removing it was in the best interest of the city.”
Stimpson also said he “firmly” believes the city owns the statue, but added that the decision over future ownership of the statue should be determined by councilors.
In his statement, Stimpson said he believes taking the statue down was the right thing to do for the community.
“The values represented by this monument a century ago are not the values of Mobile in 2020,” the statement read. “As a community, we should strive to understand the characters, culture and circumstances that have shaped Mobile and brought us to this crucial moment. And while we learn from our past, we should not allow the decisions of yesterday to cloud a bright tomorrow for our children.”
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