The first capital of the Confederacy has renamed a street honoring the Confederate president to recognize a Black civil rights lawyer instead, despite an Alabama law meant to protect rebel monuments and memorials.
The Montgomery City Council voted Tuesday night to rename Jeff Davis Avenue for attorney Fred D. Gray, who grew up on the street during the Jim Crow era and went on to represent clients including Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
“When I think of heroes who exemplify the best in our city, (Gray) is certainly at the forefront of that,” said Mayor Steven Reed, the city's first Black mayor. He initially proposed the change in December.
The City Council's unanimous approval could prompt a $25,000 fine under a state law passed in 2017 to prevent the removal or alteration of Confederate monuments, which have been challenged and taken down across the South, but Reed told news outlets donors already had offered to pay the penalty for the city, where delegates voted to form the Confederacy in 1861.
Gray, 90, still practices law in Tuskegee located east of Montgomery. He told the Montgomery Advertiser the city had kept him informed.
“This is a project of the mayor’s,” he said. “He expressed it to me. I was very happy about it. And I am very happy about it.”
Gray was a young lawyer when Parks was arrested for refusing to give her bus seat to a white man in 1955 in defiance of the city's segregation laws. He represented both her and King, then a young pastor who led the yearlong bus boycott that followed.
Gray is currently representing Tuskegee residents in a lawsuit aimed at removing a Confederate monument from a public square in the nearly all-Black city.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office didn't immediately return a message seeking comment on whether the state would attempt to collect fine money from the city for renaming the street. The state recently collected a $25,000 fine after suing officials in Huntsville where the county removed a Confederate memorial outside the county courthouse last year.