Will Alabama Voters Strip Jim Crow Language from State Constitution?

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tags: Jim Crow, segregation, Alabama

The Alabama Constitution, approved in 1901 to entrench white supremacy, still has language regarding segregated schools, poll taxes and bans on interracial marriage.

But a seismic change could be in store. Alabama voters on Nov. 8 will decide whether to ratify a new constitution that strips out the Jim Crow-era language. It would also reorganize the unwieldy governing document, which has been amended 978 times and tops over 400,000 words. The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama says the size makes it the longest such document in the world.

Voters in 2020 authorized state officials and lawmakers to cut the racist language that lingers from the era of racial segregation. That work, finally completed, now goes back before voters to ratify the Alabama Constitution of 2022.

Proponents say the changes that will demonstrate Alabama is a different place today — and streamline the sprawling constitution to be more user-friendly.

“This is an effort to show, not only the rest of the country, but the world who we are today,” said state Rep. Merika Coleman, one of the lawmakers who led the bipartisan effort.

However, it does not make the policy changes that some reformers have sought — such as giving counties more home rule and removing tax earmarks, which dedicate taxes to a specific program or purpose.

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The framers of the 1901 constitution were direct about their goal to maintain a government controlled by whites.

“The new constitution eliminates the ignorant negro vote, and places the control of our government where God Almighty intended it should be -– with the Anglo-Saxon race,” John Knox, president of the constitutional convention, said in a speech urging voters to ratify the document.

The Alabama Constitution has language allowing parents to opt for students to “attend schools provided for their own race” and sections about poll taxes, bans on interracial marriage and a convict labor system in which Black Alabamians, often arbitrarily arrested, were forced to work in mines and labor camps. The provisions were long ago invalidated by court rulings or later amendments, but the language remains in the state’s government document.

Read entire article at PBS News Hour