Racial justice nonprofit Project Say Something (PSS) has been leading a movement to protest the Confederate statue at the county courthouse for over three years. When Birmingham’s mayor took down the statue in Linn Park, however, Project Say Something knew it was time to mobilize again. For the past month, the group has been demanding the removal and relocation of the monument to the Soldier’s Rest area of the city cemetery. They have organized historic daily protests outside the county courthouse with the message that they won’t stop until the statue comes down. This is the most sustained protest for racial justice this small city has ever seen.
Meanwhile, the City of Florence, Alabama and the Commission of Lauderdale County, Alabama are playing a game hot potato. The city owns the statue and supports removal, but the county refuses to pass a resolution in its favor. Neither body is willing to break the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017, despite the precedent set by other cities across Alabama such as Birmingham, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, and Montgomery.
While Florence experiences the closest thing to a Civil Rights movement the area has ever seen, with Black voices amplified and uplifted in daily protests and meetings of the city council and county commission, white resistance has begun to organize. Counterprotesters began attending the protests waving Confederate flags and screaming “White lives matter!” over Black speakers. Members of Project Say Something receive daily threats of violence and even death. Racist messages in response to the monument debate are appearing all over social media.
The Shoals, as this quad-city area is known, was made famous by the 2013 documentary “Muscle Shoals” that showcased Fame Recording Studio where Black and white musicians made R&B hits together against the backdrop of segregation in the Jim Crow South. The Shoals frequently markets itself as a quiet corner of Alabama that enjoyed racial harmony through its music legacy. The monument debate reveals that the narrative of racial harmony was predicated on the suppression of Black activism. As white supremacy is reignited by the presence of Black protestors and allies, Florence has now become, to quote a recent city councilman, a “powder keg.”