Updated at 5:13 p.m. ET on July 14, 2020.
When Doug Jones invokes the civil-rights movement of the early 1960s, he knows the stakes. Twenty years before his upset win in a 2017 special election to represent Alabama in the Senate, Jones, a U.S. attorney, prosecuted Klansmen for the Birmingham church bombing—and insisted that the guilty verdict not be seen as the end of the movement’s story.*
Jones understands why Americans might be cynical about the current civil-rights protests. He understands why people might look at all of the demonstrations since George Floyd’s death and say that, so far, there’s been more political back-and-forth over whether “Defund the police” is a good slogan than actual change.
“You only have to look back at what happened in this country in 1963, 1964, 1965,” Jones told me. Those changes, he pointed out, took more than a few months. “I would encourage folks to just not give up, to not let this moment pass and not just sit back and say, ‘Well, it’s never gonna happen. There’s going to be too much resistance, so let’s just move on.’”
From his home in Birmingham, Jones has been trying to get Alabamans to listen to public-health guidelines about the coronavirus—while also trying to campaign to hold his seat in November. He’s also been watching the South grapple again with its history, and urging people to be honest about what the Civil War and its aftermath meant. “You can honor individuals who fought, but we should not honor the Confederacy. Remember, this was not our country. This was the Confederate States of America,” Jones said. “If you love freedom and you are a patriot, then you can’t honor the Confederacy.” But he warned against getting consumed entirely by the fight over monuments, despite supporting the removal of many himself. “Those are just symbols, and they’re monuments; and they’re not the barriers to racial [equality],” he told me.