Alabama official causes ‘good trouble’ in attempt to topple Confederate statue

This 2018 file photo shows a Confederate monument dedicated in 1909 standing in the middle of the square in Tuskegee, Alabama. A Tuskegee councilman who once served as the city’s mayor is facing criminal charges after attempting to saw down a Confederate monument in the town square Wednesday.

Credit: Jay Reeves

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This 2018 file photo shows a Confederate monument dedicated in 1909 standing in the middle of the square in Tuskegee, Alabama. A Tuskegee councilman who once served as the city’s mayor is facing criminal charges after attempting to saw down a Confederate monument in the town square Wednesday.

Credit: Jay Reeves

Credit: Jay Reeves

A Tuskegee, Alabama, councilman who once served as the city’s mayor is facing criminal charges after attempting to saw down a Confederate monument in the town square Wednesday.

Johnny Ford, 78, reportedly climbed inside an electronic lift with an electric saw at the 100 block of Tuskegee’s Main Street, where the statue honoring Macon County’s Confederate soldiers has stood since 1909. There, he and another man began going to work on the concrete ankle of the towering monument before police stepped in to stop them.

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“Johnny Ford was up on a lift, him and another guy,” Macon County Sheriff André Brunson told reporters. “And they were cutting the leg of the statue, trying to take the statue down.”

After securing the area, Brunson wrapped police tape around the monument.

There’s no indication that Ford was placed under arrest, but Brunson said the councilman and his accomplice would face multiple charges, including destruction of property.

“If the state wants to fine us, fine. If they want to try to arrest us, fine ... Sometimes you have to get into good trouble in order to bring about change."

- Johnny Ford, former mayor of Tuskegee, Alabama

As a public official, Ford could also face civil penalties under Alabama’s 2017 Monument Preservation Act, which also prohibits local governments from legally removing monuments 40 years old or older, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

Ford defended his actions, saying he was causing “good trouble” by trying to remove the monument with plans to bury it on public land and place a headstone to mark its location.

“If the state wants to fine us, fine. If they want to try to arrest us, fine,” he told reporters after the incident. “Sometimes you have to get into good trouble in order to bring about change,” he added, echoing a popular phrase used by late U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

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“During the ’60s, we were fighting for voting rights and we went to jail. We did what we had to do. This issue is very, very serious with me. This statue represents slavery. It stands for the Confederacy, whose fight was to keep slavery. My forefathers were enslaved. I take that very, very seriously,” Ford told the Advertiser.

The controversial statue in the predominantly Black city has been vandalized numerous times through the years, including in 2015, 2017 and 2020 during protests over the police killing of George Floyd, the Advertiser reported.

Ford said he was prompted by the memory of a childhood friend who was shot to death in 1966 after asking to use a whites-only bathroom and whose killer was later acquitted.

“I was doing it for Sammy Younge and the [Tuskegee University] students who tried to pull the statue down,” Ford told the Advertiser. “The message has been sent. Everybody has just been waiting on someone to do it. It’s my council district. It’s my responsibility to do it. The people elected me, in this district. This is the first time the county and city government have taken a position to see it removed. Of course, they haven’t been able to do it because of the legal (implications). They’re afraid of the threats from the Legislature and the attorney general. But I’m not afraid of the governor and the attorney general.”

The United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated Tuskegee’s monument in 1909, the Advertiser reported. The monument is not named in honor of anyone in particular. It was erected in a downtown park set aside exclusively for white people despite the population of Macon County being more than 80% Black at the time, according to The Associated Press.

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