Alabama commission to review removal of racist language from state Constitution

Montgomery Advertiser 
May 26, 2021
Section 256 of Alabama's 1901 Constitution established a segregated school system: "Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race."

Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday signed a resolution to form a commission to remove racist language from the 1901 Constitution, among other tasks.

The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, creates the Joint Interim Legislative Committee on the Recompilation of the Constitution.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Coleman said on Wednesday. “For the recompilation and removing racist language. But it’s also a step in the right direction for Alabama.”

The commission will help carry out Amendment 951, approved by 67% of voters in  November. The amendment, sponsored by Coleman, calls for the removal of racist language in the state’s governing document, as well as duplicative or outdated language. It will also require a reorganization of local and economic development amendments, with a goal of providing clarity on both.

Alabama’s 1901 Constitution was framed to disenfranchise Black Alabamians and poor whites. John B. Knox, the president of the 1901 Constitutional Convention, said the convention aimed “within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this state.” The document set up segregated public schools and included a ban on interracial marriage. Supporters of the constitution, including the Montgomery Advertiser, made nakedly racist appeals to voters.

Historians believe the constitution won approval through fraud. After the apparent victory, the Advertiser said in banner headlines on its front page that the “putrid sore of Negro suffrage is severed from the body politic of the Commonwealth.”

The front page of the Montgomery Advertiser on Nov. 12, 1901, celebrating the passage of the Alabama Constitution. The document was framed to take the vote from blacks and poor whites. Historians say the constitution was passed fraudulently.

Federal laws and court decisions have rendered most of the racist sections of the Constitution null and void. But efforts to remove the language collapsed in 2004 and 2012 over Amendment 111, a 1956 amendment passed amid white hysteria over Brown v. Board of Education, which says there is no right to a public school education in Alabama.

The 2004 proposal would have removed the amendment; the 2012 measure left it in place. Both measures failed.

Coleman’s amendment, approved by the Legislature in 2019, does not address Amendment 111.

The commission must have its first meeting before July 1. The Legislature will take up proposed changes under the amendment in the 2022 regular session, which starts in January. A 60% vote of both bodies will be needed to approve those changes. If the measure is approved, Alabama voters will decide whether to approve or reject the amendment in the November 2022 election.

Coleman said Wednesday removal of the language would be “a symbol” for the state.

Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or [email protected].

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