MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama lawmakers of Friday approved sweeping protections for Confederate monuments, names and other historic memorials, as some Southern cities rethink the appropriateness of keeping such emblems on public property.
The measure "would prohibit the relocation, removal, alteration, renaming, or other disturbance of any architecturally significant building, memorial building, memorial street, or monument" that has stood on public property for 40 or more years," it reads. Changes to names or memorials installed between 20 and 40 years ago would need permission from a new state commission.
African-American lawmakers opposed the bill at every step of the legislative process, saying argued that solidifies a shameful legacy of slavery.
"You say we are protecting history. We are not protecting history. We are protecting monuments that represent oppression to a large part of the people in the state of Alabama," said Sen. Hank Sanders, an African-American Democrat from Selma.
Supporters argued that the measure should protect all kinds of history — not just Confederate symbols.
Sen. Gerald Allen, the bill's Republican sponsor, criticized what he called a "wave of political correctness" wiping out monuments to people he said were historically significant even if they had their personal flaws.
The legislation would also apply to schools named to memorialize people.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey added an amendment, which lawmakers approved, to clarify that schools could change locations and do renovations, but not change names. The amendment came after lawmakers raised concerns that schools, which are often named for people, could not do renovations or relocate under the bill's directive.
Governments around the South are reconsidering the appropriateness of monuments honoring the Confederacy. Some have decided to remove them altogether, while others would add statues honoring civil rights figures, or plaques providing more historical information about slavery and the legal segregation that followed.
Officials in New Orleans have been removing several Confederate monuments. The proposed removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, prompted a torch-lit protest and a candle-lit counter-demonstration there.
Birmingham's park board has approved a resolution to remove a 52-foot-tall Confederate monument in a downtown park in 2015, prompting a legal challenge from a Southern heritage organization.
"Are you good with the sanitizing of history as we are seeing in New Orleans?" asked Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City. His opponents countered that local governments should be able to decide what's appropriate for their communities.