Cook recently presented on the legal issues surrounding Confederate memorial removal at the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation conference in Washington, D.C., and brought up Demopolis, Alabama. (Cook is on the board of directors of the committee.) “This case captivates me because we’ve been talking about this need for public dialogue, for communities to be inclusive and collaborative,” Cook said at the conference. Here, Demopolis had done exactly that, and yet a solution remains elusive nearly two years after the statue’s fall.
“The culture may have started to shift in the national conversation, but communities and states are being left behind, and some are even being gagged,” as Dinielli, the SPLC attorney, put it.
These preservation laws could ultimately be reversed through legislative action, or if a community successfully challenges them in court as overreach. But while Demopolis, for example, may be able to pursue that kind of case, Memphis might not, since it sought to work around the law by privatizing the park land where the monuments stood.
“There really is no one-size-fits-all approach to solving the legal questions in regards to monument removal, and there’s no single answer to the question of what comes next,” said Cook.
Indeed, deciding how to replace or contextualize Confederate monuments is difficult, even without the legal hurdles. Joshua Inwood, associate professor of geography and a senior research associate at the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State, noted that the need for Americans to grapple with the past extends beyond Confederate monuments. “We have never really reconciled America as a broader world power with some of the things that went into making America a world power,” he said.
And across the country, cities and towns are taking steps to address their past and begin that long process of reconciliation—if their states will let them.