Days after the City of Birmingham defied state law to remove a Confederate monument in Linn Park in response to protests against police brutality against the black community, debate over a monument in Albertville has been reignited.
The Reporter has received several Letters to the Editor from Marshall County residents, calling for the removal of a Confederate monument located at the Marshall County Courthouse in Albertville.
This isn’t the first time. The monument’s removal was also requested in 2016 by an Albertville resident.
The monument depicts a soldier carrying a Confederate battle flag with a quote: “The hands that grasped them, and the hearts that fondly clasped them, cold and dead are lying low.” The phrase Deo Vindice, meaning “God our defender/protector” is also on the memorial.
According to Albertville historian Danny Maltbie, the monument was first erected at the old railroad depot in 1996 and later moved to its current location in 2005.
“[An] article (Saturday, April 23, 2005 of The Advertiser Gleam) tells of it being moved to the courthouse due to Main Street being reopened after becoming a downtown mall,” he said. “The headline under a picture of the monument says ‘The Sons of Confederate Veterans put their monument on the Branch Courthouse lawn in Albertville after it had to be moved from an intersection that had to be reworked in that town.’ In the same 2005 article, a Mr. McCoy stated ‘The City of Albertville asked that it be placed at the old cemetery on [Alabama] Highway 205. The chapter disagreed with that placement because they felt not many people would see it there. We wanted to put it at the Courthouse instead.’”
When asked about the potential removal and relocation of the monument, Marshall County Chairman James Hutcheson said he didn’t believe it should be moved. He said his ancestors fought on both sides during the Civil War.
“It’s part of Marshall County’s history,” he said. “I don’t believe you should try to destroy or rewrite history … But I don’t have the authority to remove it anyway; it has to be approved by the [state] legislature.”
By law, the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017 requires local governments to obtain state permission before moving or renaming historically significant buildings and monuments, but only if they date back 40 years or longer.
If it was erected in 1996, that makes the monument in Albertville only 24 years old.
However, this didn’t change Hutcheson’s stance.
“Everyone has an opinion, and I realize there are some strong opinions on both sides,” Hutcheson said, “but that doesn’t change my mind.”
The monument was erected to honor the county’s fallen soldiers during the Civil War. At the foot of the monument are the names of soldiers — Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, George F. Amos, W.M. Martin, John Wesley B. Hughes and Lt. Gen. A.P. Stewart. According to the past post commander of the Marshall County Sons of Confederate Veterans David Welch, there were approximately 640 soldiers in the Confederacy from Marshall County. In 1957, Congress approved a law making all Confederate Army, Navy and Marine veterans equal to U.S. Veterans.
While Marshall County originally voted against secession in 1864, saying the county was pro-Union would be inaccurate, according to local Boaz historian Wayne Hunt. However, it would be accurate to say parts of Marshall County were supportive of the Union. According to Welch, the northern part of the county including the Grant-Swearengin area and the former state of Nickajack was thought to be considered “Union-leaning,” but the majority of Marshall County was loyal to the Confederacy.
Welch said the cause of the Civil War was not about slavery, as many people are led to believe. He said only about 5% of soldiers owned slaves and the issue was “on its way out” of the South.
“It was about the South being invaded by the North and them defending their homes,” he said.
On the subject of slavery, residents of Marshall County could have been “anti-slavery” at the time, but this fact remains in question. According to Hunt, there were few residents in Marshall County at the time. Even fewer owned slaves.
“It is a fact that this area of North Alabama did not participate in the common era of owning slaves,” Hunt said. “They maintained their loyalty to the South while at the same time maintained their distance on the issue of slavery… In speaking of Marshall County, we have to consider Guntersville and there were a number of (not many) slave owners in that area.
“In the very earliest years of settlers coming to the Sand Mountain plateau Mr. Cox (Cox’s Stand — according to “The Boaz Heritage”) was said to have brought a number of slaves as a work force to reestablish and clear the old Jackson Trail across Sand Mountain as a main thoroughfare for a stage coach line that ran from Summerville south to drop off the mountain at Jordan’s Gap (Aurora) for points south in Alabama. It is said that once this was complete he released those individuals, and many of them settled into the area of what may be Gadsden today. This dates to the 1830 timeframe.”
Upon Maltbie’s research, he found there were 993 slaves in Marshall County in 1850 and 1,563 slaves in 1860, according to Ancestry.com.
“Most were in the valley along the river on the fertile and flat farmland,” Maltbie said. “There was a few known Albertville area landowners that owned slaves but not in large numbers. Thomas Albert, who Albertville is named for, owned four slaves. He lived on what is now Glover Street. Edward Cox, who lived near the intersection of Turnpike Road and Walnut Street, owned 16 slaves in 1850. He died in 1853 and willed 17 slaves to his family. His home place is within the city limits of Albertville.”
As for more modern local history, Hunt said Boaz served the black citizens of town with an “unusual level of respect.”
“Although there was inherently a social division, yet the town provided for and maintained many services that were specifically for these citizens,” he said. “They always made sure the community had a decent and comfortable place of worship. As far as even including the Popular Springs Baptist Church in the advertisements of churches in town. The town provided for the education of black citizens by incorporating a school for the black children. Among many aspects none is more displaying than the census records that reveal citizens of color being counted among the white citizens of town. And, that they lived mingled together among the prominent residential areas in town. To be clear, there were social divisions, yet those division were just simply part of normal life during those days. Those divisions did not define them, however, as lower class or less equal citizens.”
Welch encouraged everyone to research the Civil War and its history to better understand what actually happened.
“My motto is ‘ignorance is a choice,’” Welch said. “The truth is out there; there’s lots of sources available to help people learn and understand more about the Civil War, including the Sons of Confederate Veterans.”