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City of Montgomery, Alabama Hit with $25K Fine After Switching Street Named from Confederate President to Civil Rights Leader Fred D. Gray

The city of Montgomery, Alabama, is facing a large fine after the city changed a street named for Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederate States of America.

The former Jeff Davis Avenue is now Fred D. Gray Avenue after being renamed in late October with backing by city officials, including Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, who proposed the name change in December 2020.

Civil Rights attorney Fred Gray, (C), unveils the new street sign bearing his name alongside his wife Carol, (L), and Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, (R), during a ceremony October 26, 2021, in which the City of Montgomery renamed Jeff Davis Avenue Fred D. Gray Avenue in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Julie Bennett/Getty Images)

The city is now facing a $25,000 fine from the Alabama attorney general’s office for violating the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017.

“We thought it was the right thing to do,” Reed told CNN. “We want to move forward with it as we try to seek a new image for Montgomery and a new beginning, and one focused more on the economic opportunities, our investments in public education, and our investments in our people in our community, as opposed to relics of the past.”

The Preservation Act “prohibits the relocation, removal, alteration, renaming, or other disturbance of any monument located on public property which has been in place for 40 years or more,” according to the Alabama Historical Commission.

The fine is imposed for each violation found by the Attorney General if the official determines that “an entity exercising control of public property has relocated, removed, altered, renamed, or otherwise disturbed a monument from public property” without filing a waiver or failing to adhere to any conditions that waivers granted stipulate. If the fine is not paid, the matter could head to court.

The Alabama attorney general’s office sent a letter to Montgomery city officials on Nov. 5, threatening legal action if the fine isn’t paid by Dec. 8. A spokesman from the Alabama attorney general’s office refused to comment, saying, “We have no comment on the matter concerning the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.”

According to Reed, donors have already begun reaching out to offer to pay the fine, but his true concern is whether anyone should have to do so. “The other question we have to answer is: Should we pay the fine when we see it as an unjust law?” Reed said. “We’re certainly considering taking the matter to court because it takes away home rule for municipalities.”

Civil rights attorney Fred Gray, 90, who still practices today, represented notable clients throughout his career, including Rosa Parks, following her refusal to move from her seat on a local bus, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who called him “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”

Gray grew up on the street now named for him, which intersects with Rosa Parks Ave., and attended the unveiling and dedication ceremony on Oct. 26 just steps away from his childhood home.

“We want to honor those heroes that have fought to make this union as perfect as it can be,” said Mayor Reed. “When I see a lot of the Confederate symbols that we have in the city, it sends a message that we are focused on the lost cause as opposed to those things that bring us together under the Stars and Stripes.”

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