Groups dedicated to enshrining the Confederacy have added another monument to the Confederate Veterans Memorial Park in Crenshaw County, Alabama. The NAACP has blasted the new fixture as adding insult to injury after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly. Those who erected the monument have asserted that the timing of its installation is coincidental.
On Aug. 27, David Coggins of the Sons of Confederate Veterans erected a monument to unknown Confederate soldiers in a park that he privately owns. The unveiling ceremony was attended by roughly 200 people, many of them wearing items with Confederate iconography, AL.com reports.
"That's why we're here is to honor our Confederate dead, to honor our Confederate ancestors ... We should all be proud of our Confederate ancestors," Coggins told the crowd.
The monument was a modest-sized gravestone engraved with "Unknown AL Soldier CSA... Mother, I have been found, I am home."
The monument was put up during a heated national debate over whether it's acceptable to allow Confederate monuments to remain in public spaces. Tensions over the Confederacy's legacy erupted following a white nationalist rally in Virginia that ended with one woman dead and many injured.
On Aug. 11, hundreds of white nationalists gathered to protest the removal of a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. On Aug. 12, members of the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazi movement and the "alt-right" held a contentious rally in the college town. Tensions reached a breaking point when alt-right member James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly plowed his vehicle into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others, according to The Washington Post.
On Aug. 13, commander Jimmy Hill of the Alabama division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans announced the monument to unknown Confederate soldiers would be erected in Coggins' park. This drew swift criticism.
On Aug. 22, Alabama State NAACP President Benard Simelton issued a statement condemning the decision to mount another Confederate statue shortly after the Charlottesville violence.
"Confederate symbols and monuments are offensive to far too many citizens, especially Blacks/People of African Descent," Simelton's statement said. "The historical meaning, intent, and outright disrespect noted in these Confederate symbols and monuments re-ignite the negative history and memories associated with them."
Coggins defended the new monument, asserting that its installation had long been in the works before the events in Charlottesville.
"This was planned several months ago," Coggins told WSFA. "Matter of fact, the monument was ordered last year and it's taken this long to get it in the ground and ready to unveil."
Meanwhile, Simelton asserted that the timing of the announcement for the new monument was insensitive.
"If they had to unveil it, why would they unveil it on the hill of such a tragic event that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia," Simelton said.
While numerous state and city officials have moved toward removing their Confederate monuments, Alabama lawmakers have taken a protective stance towards the statues.
On May 24, Republican Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that forbid the removal of any state monuments that had been erected at least 40 years earlier. The legislation also prohibited renaming any schools that had carried a title for at least 40 years, The Associated Press reports.
While Alabama officials asserted that the legislation was designed to protect all monuments in their state, critics accused the bill of only serving to protect shrines to the Confederacy.