Who needs a memorial to honor the victims of the Holocaust? Not Birmingham, Ala., Councilwoman Sheila Tyson.
In fact, Tyson, who is black, thinks that no one needs to be reminded and that a proposal to erect such a monument is racist. Why? Because the city previously declined her request for funds to make repairs at the historically black Shadow Lawn Cemetery. And when it comes right down to it, “Dead is dead,” Tyson argued.
City Attorney Thomas Bentley, whose parents are buried in Shadow Lane, tried to explain that the black cemetery is a privately owned entity, while the Holocaust memorial is a public expression of the city’s remembrance of victims of an atrocity. Like slavery. Would Tyson object as strenuously to a memorial to those who perished in the Middle Passage?
Bentley tried to reason, saying:
I’m not sure I have the vocabulary or explanatory power to indicate the distinction although it’s clear to me from a legal standpoint that there is a distinction.
Tyson fired back with a fusillade of factual inaccuracies, according to the Birmingham News.
She argued that Shadow Lawn, which was purchased in the late 1800s and became a cemetery in the 1930s, “is the oldest cemetery in the world.” In fact, it is not the oldest cemetery in Birmingham, much less the state of Alabama.
She further asserted that it’s a “tourist attraction” on the strength of the fact that “President Obama’s wife’s great, great granddaddy is buried out there.” Good enough for me. I can even imagine hordes of tourists flocking to Birmingham to visit the grave of Obama’s wife’s great, great granddaddy’s pet gerbil.
Tyson said later she is not opposed to the Holocaust memorial. She said she simply does not understand why the city is legally allowed to fund one and not the other.
“What’s the difference,” Tyson said in the meeting. “I see the difference. I know the difference but I will leave it right there.”
At this point, Councilwoman Lashunda Scales came to Tyson’s aid, claiming, “The difference is the haves and have nots.” Alternative formulation: Black lives matter.
Rebecca Dobrinski, the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center’s executive director, tried to explain that the memorial is intended to serve the greater community:
It is meant to teach the community of the consequences of prejudice and hate. That is the lesson of the Holocaust. Our goal is to teach the lessons of the Holocaust … so that we do not go down that slippery slope of hate again.
That should have been enough to change hardened minds. But it wasn’t. Ultimately, the council decided to table the issue for a week.