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Civil War statue lawsuit dismissed

From The Birmingham News
News staff writer

" A federal judge has dismissed claims against the City of Selma for moving a monument honoring Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest from a museum to a cemetery.

Friends of Forrest filed a lawsuit in May 2001 alleging the city, Mayor James Perkins Jr. and the City Council discriminated against the group and practiced "unequal application of the law" when it moved the statue. The group can appeal the ruling or file another suit in state court.

U.S. District Judge W. Brevard Hand ruled Thursday that there was no evidence the city treated the Friends of Forrest group differently from other organizations because its members are white.

The City Council may now consider countersuing the group to recover more than $100,000 the city has paid to defend itself.

"It's not the kind of issue we need out there," said Valerie Chittom, attorney for the city. "We've got so much good to focus on."

The city moved the bust of Forrest, which is owned by Friends of Forrest, from a courtyard outside the Smitherman Historical Building to the graveyard to end a long-running controversy that was marked by vandalism and protest marches.

Critics of the monument complained that Forrest deserved no place of honor because of his actions during the Civil War and his later role in developing the Ku Klux Klan. Supporters said the city allowed statues of civil rights leaders to remain in prominent places.

Perkins said it was the council's right to move the monument from one city property to another. Still, he offered Friends of Forrest an olive branch: "In the interest of reconciliation with the Friends of Forrest, the mayor's office will not oppose any request to the City Council from the Friends of Forrest to face the monument in a direction of their choice."

The group had argued that the city faced the Forrest monument in the wrong direction after moving it to the Old Live Oak Cemetery, the resting place of other Confederate monuments. It should face north or south to distinguish it from graves, which face east, Friends of Forrest said.

City attorney Jimmy Nunn said the city also will allow the group to take back the monument.

"If they wanted to take old Nathan Bedford home and put it on their private property, that's fine, too," he said.

Thomas Russell McAlpine, an attorney for Friends of Forrest, said the group had not decided whether it would appeal or file a new lawsuit. A decision likely will come next week, he said. "

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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