MONTGOMERY, Ala. — An Alabama lawmaker who disputes that slavery was the cause of the Civil War has proposed fining cities $10,000 a day for taking down Confederate and other longstanding monuments, a bill that drew contentious debate on Wednesday.
The House State Government Committee held a public hearing on the bill by Republican Rep. Mike Holmes of Wetumpka that would dramatically increase fines for violating the 2017 Memorial Preservation Act. Current law levies a flat $25,000 fine, which some cities have paid as a cost of removing controversial monuments to other locations.
“It’s a deterrent. The citizens of Alabama are upset at the damaging and destroying of these monuments,” Holmes said after the meeting. Holmes said he brought the bill as cities and counties began removing Confederate emblems.
The bill drew heated debate as Black lawmakers described why the monuments are viewed as offensive. Some speakers at the public hearing claimed that the Civil War was not about slavery, a notion that is contrary to the widely accepted view that it was the root cause of the conflict.
“Some of these monuments are a disgrace to some of us,” said Rep. Rolanda Hollis, a Black Democrat from Birmingham. “People that look like me, they were kidnapped. They were raped. They were beaten and nothing was done about it.”
Holmes on Wednesday, and earlier this session, said he did not believe the Civil War was about slavery. Several speakers in favor of the bill repeated that view, which drew a sharp rebuke from some Black lawmakers.
“It further shows white supremacy,” Democratic Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, said of Holmes’ bill. “Why would you fine somebody $10,000 a day? That is ludicrous. But yet you say you are here for the people. And then you don’t know why the freaking war was fought,” Givan said, adding that “maybe they need to get a book and read.”
The House Judiciary Committee earlier rejected a bill by Givan that would let cities and counties move the monuments to another location, such as a local park or state agency land, for preservation. The local governments would have to pay for the relocation.
Committee Chairman Chris Pringle said it he was not sure when the bill will get a committee vote.
Holmes told reporters Wednesday that he did not believe the Civil War was about slavery.
“It was a tax thing. Tariffs going in and out of the ports,” Holmes said.
Asked about Alabama’s 1861 Articles of Secession that says Alabama wanted to form a new government with other slave states, Holmes replied, “I’ve never seen that. Do you have proof of that?” After being shown the document on the Alabama’s bicentennial website, Holmes said he didn’t read it that way.
“It is the desire and purpose of Alabama to meet the slaveholding state of the South who may approve such purpose in order to frame a provisional as well as Permanent Government upon the Principles of the Constitution of the United States,” the document reads.
Historian Wayne Flynt, a former Auburn University history professor and the author of more than a dozen books, including cowriting “Alabama: A History of a Deep South State, said that slavery was the “key to the Civil War” but he said white southerners sometimes resisted that because they don’t want to admit their ancestors would fight to maintain slavery.
“Coming to terms with history is something that we don’t do well in Alabama. Coming to terms with history admits that slavery was morally wrong, that it was a travesty of Christianity and therefore we could not possibly have done that,” Flynt said.
“I’m sorry I’m not still teaching Alabama history because I would enroll them for free in my class,” Flynt quipped.