Donors Offer to Pay Alabama City's $25K Fine for Renaming Street After Civil Rights Lawyer

Donors have offered to pay a potential $25,000 fine for Montgomery, Alabama, to change the name of one of its streets honoring the Confederate president to instead recognize a Black civil rights lawyer, the Associated Press reported.

Montgomery was the first capital of the Confederacy, and an Alabama law meant to protect Confederate monuments and memorials can impose a fine for their removal.

The Montgomery City Council voted Tuesday night to rename a street from Jeff Davis Avenue to Fred D. Gray Avenue. Davis, 90, is a Black attorney who grew up on the street during the Jim Crow era and represented Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks during the civil rights movement.

The unanimous vote could prompt the $25,000 fine from the 2017 state law, but Mayor Steven Reed told news outlets that donors have already offered to pay the penalty on behalf of the city.

"We're becoming a destination for people who want to come and learn more about the history of this country, the good and the bad," Reed said. "And, block to block, this city is a tangible link to that history. The good, we strive to emulate. The bad, drives us to change...and to move closer to a more perfect union."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Fred D. Gray
The Montgomery (Alabama) City Council voted unanimously to change the name of Jeff Davis Avenue to honor Black civil rights attorney Fred D. Gray. Above, Gray attends a reception honoring the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march at the Rosa Parks Library Museum on March 6, 2015, in Montgomery. Jason Davis/Getty Images for 51 Miles Forward

"When I think of heroes who exemplify the best in our city, [Gray] is certainly at the forefront of that," said Reed, the city's first Black mayor. He initially proposed the change in December.

Gray still practices law in Tuskegee, 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 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.

Fred D. Gray Avenue
Donors have already offered to pay the potential $25,000 fine to rename a street that honors the Confederate president to recognize a Black civil rights lawyer. Above, Montgomery (Alabama) Mayor Steven Reed poses for photos with Fred Gray Jr. and Stanley Gray after the City Council voted unanimously to change Jeff Davis Avenue to Fred D. Gray Avenue at City Hall in Montgomery on October 5, 2021. Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP