Blogs > Liberty and Power > A New Civil Rights Problem in Montgomery (Property Rights Abuse)

Apr 27, 2009 9:18 am

A New Civil Rights Problem in Montgomery (Property Rights Abuse)

On Wednesday, Alabamans who have charged violations of their property rights by local governments can bring their complaints to a public forum in Montgomery sponsored by the State Advisory Committee U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In this story from the Tuscaloosa News, I provide some specifics on the people who will appear:

What is happening in the cradle of the modern civil rights movement? Jimmy McCall would like to know. 'It was more my dream house,' he laments, 'and the city tore it down ... It reminds me of how they used to mistreat black people in the Old South.' In 1955, Rosa Parks took on the whole system of Jim Crow by refusing to give up her seat on a segregated Montgomery bus. Today, McCall is waging a lonely battle against the same city government for another civil right: the freedom to build a home on his own land.

Though McCall's ambitions are modest, he is exceptionally determined. For years, he has scraped together a living by salvaging rare materials from historic homes and then selling them to private builders. Sometimes months went by before he had a client. Finally, he had put aside enough to purchase two acres in Montgomery and started to build. He did the work himself using materials accumulated in his business including a supply of sturdy and extremely rare longleaf pine.

McCall only earns enough money to build in incremental stages, but eventually his dream home took shape. According to a news story by Benjamin Solomon, the structure had 'the high slanted ceilings, the exposed beams of dark, antique wood. It looks like a charming, spacious home in the making.'

But from the outset, the city showed unremitting hostility. He has almost lost count of the roadblocks it threw up including a citation for keeping the necessary building materials on his own land during the construction process.

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Rick Croley - 4/28/2009

Unfortunately, many cities, towns and counties in Alabama have been moving in this direction for some time. The county board where my father lives passed an ordinance a couple of years ago called "home rule". Under the ordinance, a county inspector can levy fines on properties he deems unsightly. It also provides wide latitude, subject to much abuse, on how the definition of "unsightly" is understood.

One township just south of Birmingham infamously passed codes a few years ago that gave the city council and their minions the ability to dictate the types of window curtains people could hang in their windows. These dictates were backed up with fines.

The sad part of all this is that it has come about because the "people" are often the ones demanding it.