The front lawn of the Albertville Courthouse was awash with rebel flags and anti-white supremacy picket signs Wednesday afternoon as groups of demonstrators and counterprotesters clashed over the issue of removing a Confederate monument from the premises.
For the second time this month, Say Their Names Alabama, a grassroots activist group led by Albertville native Unique Morgan Dunston, gathered to continue their call for the removal of the Confederate monument and flag from public property. They were joined by a large contingent of counterprotesters who voiced their support for the Confederate icons staying in their current location.
Both groups appeared to have doubled their efforts since the last protest on Aug. 12, as each side brought more flags, signs and greater numbers.
Daniel Sims, who appeared to be the de facto leader of the counterprotest group, showed up wearing a flak jacket and carrying a loud-speaker.
“We come here peacefully,” Sims said. “We definitely about love, and we definitely about the South… But we can only take so much… They say ‘black lives matter’... why in the hell does my life not matter?”
Sims said after the last protest, he received harsh criticism and even threats for supporting the Confederate flag as a black man. He staunchly denied the accusation that he threatened to shoot anyone at that event.
“We don’t have to agree, and you’re not going to force me to fall in line like a puppet,” another counteprotestor said. “… It’s our heritage. Do we not have a right to feel what we feel?”
Though few members of the two groups interacted, most with Say Their Names Alabama remained silent while the counterprotesters spoke.
Shortly after, the protesters formed a line along the sidewalk in front of the court house and exchanged chants of “Black lives matter” with the counterprotests who responded with “All lives matter.”
The protesters also held up large banners and signs depicting images of actual lynchings and members of the Ku Klux Klan while the counterprotestors waved rebel flags and hung a “Trump 2020” banner on the lower part of a flag pole.
Albertville resident Deborah Pierce said she was on her way to the post office when she decided to attend the protest. Though she supports removing the monument, she said after talking with some of the counterprotesters, she got a better understanding of the other side.
“I found things that we could agree upon,” she said. “We’ve got to somehow have peace… I try to keep up with both sides, and I’ve changed my mind on a couple of things.”
Pierce said she complained about the monument five years ago to the county commission’s office and believed the Confederate flag was nothing more than a symbol of hate. Now, she is hoping for a peaceful way to resolve the issue and that the two sides can find common ground.
Both contingents believe they have history and culture on their side, but there has been little to no agreement on the surrounding issues so far.
Earlier that day, Dunston attended the Marshall County Commission’s second regular August meeting with a supporter, Brad Williams, pastor of New Covenant Church in Albertville. He addressed the commission asking them to remove the monument.
“We’ve told ourselves a story that’s not true,” Williams said.
Like many other people, he said he was taught the Civil War was not about slavery but about state’s rights and that the Confederacy fought against the “tyranny” of the federal government.
“That’s not true,” he said. “The Confederacy’s underlying cause was white supremacy, and there’s no need to deny it.”
He cited the Texas Articles of Succession, which described black people as being inferior to whites and said the monument and flag by the courthouse stood for white supremacy.
“The founders of the Confederacy wished for them to stand as symbols of white supremacy,” he said. “For us to deny this truth while they themselves freely admitted it is obstinate; causes us to bear false witness against them and against history.”
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John T. Coffindaffer spoke after Williams in favor of the monument and gave examples of what he perceived as bad behavior by the Say Your Name Alabama protesters.
“The group is nothing more than a bullying spinoff of Soros-funded, BLM, Antifa, Marxists who are pushing their counterculture agenda,” he said to the commission. “They will never stop pressing to erase our history long after the removal of the monuments.”
One counterprotester at the courthouse, Troy Tucker, made similar remarks about the erasure of history by a Communist agenda.
“The first way you conquer any country is by doing away with their monuments and their art,” Tucker told The Reporter. “They’ve convinced the young people in this country that this was something evil, but if they’ll do their history on the Civil War, they’ll find out there was a whole lot more to it.”
Dunston said she believed her group and cause have been negatively associated with protests in other states that have turned violent.
“Their view is what they see on TV,” she said. “You just got to roll with it and set a good example for our organization… I think that people who assume that I’m a Communist or a Marxist or any other label — it’s just that. They’re assuming.”
She said people who know her personally, even if they do not support her cause, know what she really stands for.
“It pays to have a good reputation … in the county that I grew up in,” she said.
Dunston said she plans to attend every commission meeting and protest afterwards at the Albertville Courthouse until the monument and flag are relocated. She said she has called the county chairman’s office each week but has not gotten any feedback from the chairman or the commission about the issue.