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Mobile mayor orders statue of Confederate Admiral Semmes moved to museum

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has directed that a statue of Confederate Admiral Raphael Semmes be permanently moved to the History Museum of Mobile.

The statue stood for over 120 years in a prominent location within the median of Government St. in downtown Mobile.

Stimpson ordered its removal from the original location on June 5 amidst the heightened focus on race relations that followed George Floyd’s death while being detained by Minneapolis police officers, a move the mayor said at the time would be temporary.

Stimpson announced on Twitter that he gave the order to move the statue from storage to the museum on Saturday, June 13, and the task was completed on Sunday, June 14.

“I have no doubt that moving the statue from public display was the right thing to do for our community going forward. The values represented by this monument a century ago are not the values of Mobile in 2020,” wrote Stimpson about the removal.

Semmes was an influential figure in Alabama’s port city, the Admiral Hotel is named after him, as well as the city of Semmes in western Mobile County. Originally from Maryland, he served in the United States Navy and was stationed in Mobile after the Mexican-American War. He gained popularity in the area while serving as a Navy commander, before resigning from U.S. Navy to join the Confederacy in 1861. Semmes’ defenders have likened him to fellow Confederate leader Gen. Robert E. Lee, saying they were decorous men defending their land and their people.

Advocates for removal often point to the Confederacy’s ardent support for keeping the institution of slavery, and the widespread view among its leaders that white people were superior to all other races, as two of the reasons that statues like the one of Semmes should not be displayed publicly in a way that conveys honor or adoration.

The mayor’s decision to move the Semmes statue appears to be in violation of the 2017 Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, which prevents any item or structure of historical importance from being removed if it is over 40 years old, which the mayor addressed in his announcement.

Stimpson said he believes his order to move the statue into a museum is “consistent with the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.”

Mobile’s city government leader said he had made the decision after “extensive research by a team of lawyers” and “conversations with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office as well as members of the Mobile City Council.”

The mayor said that if the attorney general disagreed with the interpretation that makes moving the statue legal, then Mobile will “stand ready to work with his office,” a statement that appears to acknowledge the possibility of paying the one-time $25,000 penalty that comes with violating the Preservation Act.

“I am confident that the museum staff will not only preserve the statue but place it into the appropriate historic context. We are grateful for their partnership,” wrote Stimpson.

“Over 300 years, there are chapters of darkness and light that weave together to form the Mobile story. Our most important chapter is the one we write next,” concluded the mayor.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @HenryThornton95