Ever since the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed as part of America’s racial reckoning last year, Confederate monuments and statues which symbolized cultural heritage for some also presents painful reminders of America’s racist past to many Black Americans. The statues became a focal point in cities across the nation, many of which were taken down and removed altogether. However, in Tuskegee, Alabama, one 113-year-old relic has remained.
“The statue was not given to the Daughters of the Confederacy State of Alabama, or Daughters of the Confederacy nationwide or southern-wide. It was given to the Daughters of the Confederacy of Macon County which does not exist anymore and it’s not a white only park so it’s obvious and clear it goes back to the County,” said Tuskegee Mayor Lawrence Tony Haygood.
Haygood, 69, says the effort to remove the Tuskegee Confederate Memorial in the city’s town square is nothing new to locals.
He says today, more than at any time over the past 50 years, the majority-Black city is finally inching closer to having the statue removed, that is if a judge in the Fifth Judicial Circuit of Alabama decides the land it sits on belongs to Macon County instead of the owners of the statue itself, the Macon County Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
“It was determined at that time that the Daughters of the Confederacy said they were in control of the square, and they would work something out with the county, that never happened. The County kept pressing and it came to who actually controls the square” “The first of September, the County decided to file the suit to have it determined that they own the square to have it be clear from a legal standpoint that they own the square,” said Haygood.
Haygood says the monument was erected in 1909. Local officials at the time gave the statue and the land it sits on in Tuskegee’s Town Square Park to the Macon County chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The park was deemed for white people only.
Haygood says by the 1960s, Black people assumed political power in Tuskegee and Macon County and calls for the statue to be removed grew louder.
On Jan. 3, 1966, tensions reached a boiling point when civil rights activist Sammy Leamon Younge Jr. was killed by a white gas station owner for using a whites only bathroom in Tuskegee.
“It was defaced and vandalized as a protest. Since that time on and off there have been discussions about removing the statue because it was predominant African-American leaders in the community, and predominant African-American government at every level,” said Haygood.
The technicality of who owns the land the statue sits on has stopped any serious effort to move it. Haygood says the statue’s perseverance throughout the years is painful to many Black residents who see it as a constant reminder of Alabama’s racist history toward Black people.
“If the Daughters of Confederate want to celebrate Confederate soldiers, let them do it at the appropriate location,” he said. “Let them have what they want to have, but it’s not acceptable to have in the middle of our city.
Eighty-five percent county that’s African-American, 95 percent African-American city. It’s oppressive to us in its appearance, with the Confederate battle flag facing north as if you’re ready to fight somebody, and defend slavery, it’s unacceptable to us,” said Haygood.
Atlanta Black Star attempted to reach a representative listed on the Alabama United Daughters of the Confederacy’s website but was unsuccessful.
Alabama attorney, Fred Gray, who filed the lawsuit seeking determination of land ownership declined our request for an interview.
Haygood hopes the judge decides to declare ownership of the town square to Macon County, which in turn could mean the city of Tuskegee can transform the park into something more suitable and welcoming to the majority-Black city.
“We want to get it cleared so we can finish developing the square, we want to have a cultural park on the square make it a beautiful place where you can come and have activities and make it more accessible to our community,” said Haygood.
At this time there is no word on when the judge will decide on land ownership.