Alabama Constitution of 2022 appears to be on its way to voters in November

1901 Constitution

Alabama’s 1901 Constitution was aimed at keeping blacks and poor whites from voting and achieved the framers’ intent.

A proposed Alabama Constitution of 2022 appears to be on its way to voters for ratification in this fall’s general election.

Today, the Alabama Senate passed a resolution to put the question on the ballot in November. The vote was 23-0. That follows approval by the House on a 94-0 vote last week.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s signature is the next step.

“Governor Ivey looks forward to signing the resolution to give the people of Alabama the opportunity to vote on it in November,” Gina Maiola, communications director for the governor, said in an email.

The proposed new constitution is a reorganized version of the Constitution of 1901, with racist, repealed, and duplicative sections removed.

The project, supported by Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, has been in the works for three years. In 2019, Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, sponsored legislation proposing to voters an amendment to authorize recompiling the constitution, with changes limited to five categories:

  • Arranging the constitution in proper articles, parts, and sections
  • Removing racist language
  • Deleting duplicated and repealed provisions
  • Consolidating provisions regarding economic development
  • Arranging all local amendments by county of application

By a two-to-one margin, voters approved Coleman’s amendment in November 2020 to authorize the recompilation.

Since then, the Legislative Services Agency, with guidance from a 10-member committee and comments from the public, has compiled the new constitution. It can be found on the agency’s website, along with more information about how the process has worked.

The goal was to make the massive Alabama Constitution of 1901, which has been amended 977 times, easier to read, use, and understand, as well as eliminating sections intended to preserve racial segregation and white supremacy that predated the civil rights movement.

Coleman has credited the organization Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, a nonprofit group started in 2000, with helping to spearhead the legislation.

Read more: Plan to take racist, outdated language from Alabama’s Constitution moves ahead

Panel hones in on racist sections in Alabama Constitution

Three sections were changed to repeal racist language.

Section 32, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude, carries an exception, allowing involuntary servitude “for the punishment of crime, of which the party shall have been duly convicted.”

That exception was deleted from the revised constitution.

The authorization of involuntary servitude for punishment of a crime was used to force many Blacks into labor after the end of slavery.

African Americans made up more than 90% of convicts forced to work at farms, lumber yards and coal mines under Alabama’s convict-lease system, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Section 259 is a relic of the poll taxes used to disenfranchise Black voters. It says, “All poll taxes collected in this state shall be applied to the support and furtherance of education in the respective counties where collected.” That is deleted from the revised constitution.

Poll taxes were outlawed by the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1964.

Section 256 is a statement of policy on public education. It initially called for “separate schools for white and colored children.”

Alabama revised that with Amendment 111 in 1956, a period when the state tried to resist following the Brown v. Board of Education decision that outlawed segregated schools. The amendment says the state’s policy is to foster and promote public education but that the Legislature has the authority “to require or impose conditions or procedures deemed necessary to the preservation of peace and order.”

The revised constitution deletes that italicized language.

Also deleted from Section 256: “To avoid confusion and disorder and to promote effective and economical planning for education, the legislature may authorize the parents or guardians of minors, who desire that such minors shall attend schools provided for their own race, to make election to that end, such election to be effective for such period and to such extent as the legislature may provide.”

Parts of the 1901 Constitution that have long been invalidated by courts or annulled by other amendments, which remain in the document now, are deleted from the recompiled version. Examples are the requirement for “separate schools for white and colored children,” as well as Section 102, which says, “The legislature shall never pass any law to authorize or legalize any marriage between any white person and a negro, or descendant of a negro.”

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM LEGISLATION

Legislation currently being discussed in the Alabama House of Representatives are HJR52 and HB319.

HJR52 is a resolution that will allow the Constitution’s recompilation, done by Legislative Services Agency and citizen advisors, to take effect.

That recompilation, authorized by a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2020, eliminates racist language as well as duplication and words previously repealed.  It does not add or change any other legal wording.  If passed, HJR52 will go to voters in November.

HB319 merely allows the Code Commissioner (after HJR52 is passed) to renumber sections changed by the recompilation and carry over the descriptions of change from the previous Constitution. HB319 will also go to voters in November.

Here are copies of HJR52 and HB319

1 HJR52
2 215715-2
3 By Representatives Coleman, McCutcheon, Daniels, Garrett,
4 Robbins and Drummond
5 RFD: Rules
6 First Read: 09-FEB-22

Page 0

1 215715-2:n:02/08/2022:PMG/bm LSA2021-2713R1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8 ADOPTING THE PROPOSED CONSTITUTION OF ALABAMA OF
9 2022 AND PROPOSING RATIFICATION AT THE 2022 GENERAL ELECTION.
10
11 WHEREAS, Amendment 951 to the Constitution of
12 Alabama of 1901, ratified on November 3, 2020, requires the
13 Director of the Legislative Services Agency, during the 2022
14 Regular Session, to propose a draft Constitution of Alabama of
15 2022, which is a recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama
16 of 1901, arranging the constitution in proper articles, parts,
17 and sections, removing all racist language, deleting
18 duplicative and repealed provisions, consolidating provisions
19 regarding economic development, arranging all local amendments
20 by county of application, and making no other changes; and
21 WHEREAS, the Joint Interim Legislative Committee on
22 the Recompilation of the Constitution was created by Act
23 2021-523 to assist in the revision of the Constitution of
24 Alabama of 1901, receive input from the public regarding the
25 revision, and collaborate with the Director of the Legislative
26 Services Agency in the preparation of a proposed draft of the
27 constitution, as required by Amendment 951; and

Page 1

1 WHEREAS, the Joint Interim Legislative Committee on
2 the Recompilation of the Constitution was comprised of
3 Representative Merika Coleman, Chair, Senator Arthur Orr, Vice
4 Chair, Representative Danny Garrett, Senator Sam Givhan,
5 Representative Ben Robbins, Senator Rodger Smitherman, Ms.
6 Anita Archie, Mr. Greg Butrus, Mr. Stan Gregory, and Mr. Al
7 Vance; and
8 WHEREAS, during 2021, the Joint Interim Legislative
9 Committee on the Recompilation of the Constitution held
10 numerous public meetings to discuss the proposed recompilation
11 of the constitution, received input from the public, and
12 collaborated with the Director of the Legislative Services
13 Agency in the preparation of the proposed draft recompilation
14 of the constitution; at its November 3, 2021, meeting, the
15 committee unanimously voted to adopt the draft recommended by
16 the director; and
17 WHEREAS, the proposed Constitution of Alabama of
18 2022 uses as its base the statutory recompilation of the
19 Alabama Constitution of 1901, authorized by Act 2003-312 and
20 appearing as Volumes 1 and 2 of the Code of Alabama 1975 for
21 over 15 years; and
22 WHEREAS, the final draft of the proposed
23 Constitution of Alabama of 2022 is available for review on the
24 website of the Legislature and the Secretary of State and has
25 been made available to any state agency, county, or
26 municipality for posting in accordance with Amendment 951; now
27 therefore,

Page 2

1 BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA, BOTH
2 HOUSES THEREOF CONCURRING, That
3 (a) The proposed Constitution of Alabama of 2022,
4 prepared by the Director of the Legislative Services Agency,
5 with advice and recommendations from the Joint Interim
6 Legislative Committee on the Recompilation of the
7 Constitution, as well as members of the public through that
8 process, complies with Amendment 951 to the Constitution of
9 Alabama of 1901, and only arranges the Constitution of Alabama
10 of 1901 into proper articles, parts, and sections, removes
11 racist language, deletes duplicative and repealed provisions,
12 consolidates provisions regarding economic development,
13 arranges all local amendments to the constitution by county of
14 application, and makes no other changes.
15 (b) In accordance with Amendment 951 to the
16 Constitution of Alabama of 1901, the draft Constitution of
17 Alabama of 2022, proposed by the Director of the Legislative
18 Services Agency with advice and recommendations from the Joint
19 Interim Legislative Committee on the Recompilation of the
20 Constitution, is hereby adopted and incorporated by reference
21 herein.
22 (c) The proposed Constitution of Alabama of 2022
23 shall be submitted to the qualified electors of this state for
24 ratification pursuant to Amendment 714 of the Constitution of
25 Alabama of 1901, now appearing as Section 286.01 of the
26 Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901,
27 as amended, and Amendment 951 to the Constitution of Alabama

Page 3

1 of 1901, except that the text of the proposed Constitution of
2 Alabama of 2022 shall be published on the public website of
3 the Secretary of State and the website of the Legislature and
4 shall be made available, without cost, to any agency of the
5 state or a municipality or county in the state that operates a
6 public access website for publication on the website at their
7 request.
8 (d) Upon ratification of the proposed Constitution
9 of Alabama of 2022 by a majority of the qualified electors of
10 this state voting on the question of the ratification in
11 accordance with Amendment 951, this resolution, and the
12 election laws of this state, the Constitution of Alabama of
13 2022 shall succeed the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as the
14 supreme law of this state in accordance with Amendment 951.
15 (e) An election upon the proposed Constitution of
16 Alabama of 2022 shall be held at the 2022 general election, at
17 which time the officers of the general election shall open a
18 poll for the vote of the qualified electors upon the
19 ratification of the proposed constitution. The Secretary of
20 State shall place the question of ratification on the election
21 ballot and shall set forth the following description:
22 “Proposing adoption of the Constitution of Alabama
23 of 2022, which is a recompilation of the Constitution of
24 Alabama of 1901, prepared in accordance with Amendment 951,
25 arranging the constitution in proper articles, parts, and
26 sections, removing racist language, deleting duplicated and
27 repealed provisions, consolidating provisions regarding

Page 4

1 economic development, arranging all local amendments by county
2 of application, and making no other changes.”
3 This description shall be followed by the following
4 language:
5 “Yes ( ) No ( ).”

PAGE 5

 

1 HB319
2 216074-1
3 By Representatives Coleman, McCutcheon, Daniels, Garrett,
4 Robbins and Drummond (Constitutional Amendment)
5 RFD: Constitution, Campaigns and Elections
6 First Read: 09-FEB-22

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1 216074-1:n:01/31/2022:KMS/cr LSA2021-2712
2
3
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6
7
8 SYNOPSIS: This bill would propose an amendment to the
9 Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to authorize the
10 Code Commissioner, contingent upon the ratification
11 of the Constitution of Alabama of 2022, to renumber
12 and place ratified constitutional amendments, based
13 on a logical sequence and the particular subject or
14 topic of the amendment, and to provide for the
15 transfer of existing annotations to any section of
16 the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to the section
17 as it is numbered or renumbered in the Constitution
18 of Alabama of 2022.
19
20 A BILL
21 TO BE ENTITLED
22 AN ACT
23
24 To propose an amendment to the Constitution of
25 Alabama of 1901, to authorize the Code Commissioner,
26 contingent upon the ratification of an official Constitution
27 of Alabama of 2022, to renumber and place ratified

Page 1

1 constitutional amendments, based on a logical sequence and the
2 particular subject or topic of the amendment, and to provide
3 for the transfer of existing annotations to any section of the
4 Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to the section as it is
5 numbered or renumbered in the Constitution of Alabama of 2022.
6 BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA:
7 Section 1. The following amendment to the
8 Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, is proposed and
9 shall become valid as a part thereof when approved by a
10 majority of the qualified electors voting thereon and in
11 accordance with Sections 284, 285, and 287 of the Constitution
12 of Alabama of 1901, as amended:
13 PROPOSED AMENDMENT
14 Contingent upon the ratification of the Constitution
15 of Alabama of 2022:
16 (a) The Code Commissioner shall number and place any
17 constitutional amendment ratified on the date of ratification
18 of this amendment as appropriate in the Constitution of
19 Alabama of 2022, based upon a logical sequence and the
20 particular subject or topic of the amendment.
21 (b)(1) Any judicial decision interpreting a
22 provision of the Alabama Constitution of 1901, shall remain
23 valid as to the appropriate provision in the Constitution of
24 Alabama of 2022, that has not been substantively changed by
25 the Constitution of Alabama of 2022. Any case annotation to
26 any section of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, compiled
27 and published prior to the ratification of this amendment

Page 2

1 shall apply to the section as it is numbered or renumbered in
2 the Constitution of Alabama of 2022, as authorized by
3 Amendment 951.
4 (2) The Code Commissioner shall instruct the
5 publisher of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of
6 Alabama of 1901, to transfer, organize, and otherwise arrange
7 annotations to the same or renumbered sections of the
8 Constitution of Alabama of 2022, except to the extent
9 substantively changed.
10 Section 2. An election upon the proposed amendment
11 shall be held in accordance with Sections 284 and 285 of the
12 Constitution of Alabama of 1901, now appearing as Sections 284
13 and 285 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of
14 Alabama of 1901, as amended, and the election laws of this
15 state.
16 Section 3. The appropriate election official shall
17 assign a ballot number for the proposed constitutional
18 amendment on the election ballot and shall set forth the
19 following description of the substance or subject matter of
20 the proposed constitutional amendment:
21 “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of
22 Alabama of 1901, to authorize the Code Commissioner,
23 contingent upon the ratification of an official Constitution
24 of Alabama of 2022, to renumber and place constitutional
25 amendments ratified before or on the same day as the
26 Constitution of Alabama of 2022, based on a logical sequence
27 and the particular subject or topic of the amendment, and to

Page 3

1 provide for the transfer of existing annotations to any
2 section of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to the section
3 as it is numbered or renumbered in the Constitution of Alabama
4 of 2022.
5 “Proposed by Act ________.”
6 This description shall be followed by the following
7 language:
8 “Yes ( ) No ( ).”

Page 4

Alabama Constitution: Committee appears to support plan to remove racist language

Brian Lyman

Montgomery Advertiser
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."

A committee studying racism in the Alabama Constitution gave tacit approval Wednesday to a plan to remove language on school segregation, poll taxes, and involuntary servitude.

The Committee on the Recompilation of the Constitution did not take a formal vote on the proposal from Othni Lathram, the director of the Legislative Services Agency. But no member of the committee raised objections to it.

“I’m reading today’s action as that the committee is generally comfortable with the direction on racist language,” Lathram said.

Lathram’s proposal would:

  • Alter the state prohibition on slavery to remove a clause allowing involuntary servitude “for the punishment of crime, of which the party shall have been duly convicted.” That clause served as the legal basis for Alabama’s convict-labor system, used until 1928 to all arrest Black Alabamians, often on dubious pretexts, and force them into difficult and often deadly work. Three states — Colorado, Nebraska and Utah — have removed similar language from their constitutions since 2018.
  • Strike language directing poll tax revenues to counties for educational purposes. Poll taxes disenfranchised Black Alabamians and poor whites. The 24th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1964, banned the practice. Most other poll tax provisions in the Alabama Constitution were removed by Amendment 579, Lathram said.
  • Strike language from a 1956 amendment to the Constitution, passed in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education, that would authorize the Legislature to allow children to “attend schools provided for their own race,” as well as a provision allowing the Legislature to intervene in schools in the name of “peace and order.” Supporters of segregation used the phrase in the 1950s. Alabama Attorney General John Patterson argued in August 1956 that the city of Montgomery could not maintain “peace and order … if, by court decree, a Negro man is permitted to sit by a white woman.”

Committee members did not raise objections to the plan. A formal vote on the proposal should take place within the next few weeks.

This print shows the delegates to the 1901 Alabama constitutional convention. The all-white convention, convened through fraud, approved a constitution that denied voting rights to most Black Alabamians and poor whites.

“I just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page, because at the end of the day, I want to say that this is a document that was bipartisan,” said Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, who chairs the committee and sponsored the 2020 constitutional amendment that led to its formation. “Really nonpartisan, because it shouldn’t be partisan at all.”

The framers of Alabama’s 1901 constitution — still the state’s governing document — designed it to disenfranchise Black Alabamians and poor whites, and waged a racist campaign to see it enacted.

“And what is it we want to do?” John Knox, the president of the convention, told the delegates to the convention in May 1901. “Why, it is within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this state.”

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.

The constitutional amendment setting up the commission, sponsored by Coleman, had bipartisan support and got the approval of about two-thirds of Alabama voters in 2020.

Some committee members who supported the changes expressed concerns about the potential for future litigation. Stan Gregory, an attorney serving on the committee, said that if the mandate of the committee was to address racist language, addressing issues like the poll tax — which, on its face, was applied to all — could open a door to litigation.

“It’s not much,” said Gregory, who said he supported the removal of the poll tax language. “I think that it’s defensible. I just point that out — that’s something that worries me.”

Lathram said he understood the concern but said the applications of the provisions throughout state history were racist. He said h believed the proposal considered in its “totality” would withstand legal challenges.

The 1956 amendment asserts that there is not “any right to education or training at public expense.” That language would remain in the document under the plan.

The Legislature will take up the committee’s recommendations when they return in January, in the form of a constitutional amendment. If the amendment passes, it will go to voters in November 2022.

Rep. Merika Coleman on the final day of the regular legislatives session at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala., on Monday May 17, 2021.

Federal laws and court rulings have nullified most of the racist provisions that remain within the state constitution. But Coleman said the changes would send a message.

“Our state constitution is reflective of who we are,” she said after the meeting. “Those racist provisions in that constitution, those outdated provisions — we hope that’s not who we are, and we definitely know we’re not a 1901 Alabama, and we need to reflect that in the document.”

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

Alabama Begins Removing Racist Language From Its Constitution

Many outdated provisions have long since been invalidated, but the language that was specifically intended to enshrine white supremacy has remained.

“We’re having real-deal conversations where people may not have been having those conversations before, conversations we should have had a long time ago,” State Rep. Merika Coleman said.
Credit…Andi Rice for The New York Times

The last time Alabama politicians rewrote their state Constitution, back in 1901, their aspirations were explicitly racist: “to establish white supremacy in this state.”

“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, the president of the constitutional convention, said in a speech encouraging voters to ratify the document that year.

One hundred twenty years later, the Jim Crow-era laws that disenfranchised Black voters and enforced segregation across Alabama are gone, but the offensive language written into the state Constitution remains. Now, as communities across the South reconsider racist symbols and statues, activists in Alabama who have labored for 20 years to convince voters that rewriting their Constitution is important — and long overdue — see an opportunity to get it done.

“I am tired of being treated as a second-class citizen, and terms like ‘colored’ that are throughout the Constitution play a part in that feeling,” said Marva Douglas, an actress and retired teacher who first joined Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform in the early 2000s.

Efforts to rewrite the state constitution failed twice before. But last fall, voters — jolted partly by racial justice protests across the country — gave a green light. This month, a committee of lawmakers and lay people began the process of redrafting; their work will go before the voters next year to be ratified before the new constitution can take effect.

The redrafting campaign may not be as dramatic as efforts elsewhere to reform the criminal justice system or tear down Confederate monuments, but advocates argue that addressing racist language is a critical part of reckoning with the past.

“It’s not an either-or, it’s a continuum,” said Paul Farber, the director of Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based public art and research studio dedicated to examining how history is told in the public landscape. “Part of the work is to understand how symbols carry weight and how they are connected to systems that structure public institutions and spaces and opportunity.”

Credit…Annie Flanagan for The New York Times

Shay Farley, regional policy director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, describes the effort as a way for the state to signal its collective rejection of white supremacy. “We must remove the lingering vestiges of racial segregation and legalized oppression of Alabama’s Black residents,” she wrote in a letter endorsing the constitution project.

The effort will start by extracting passages like Section 256, which still says that “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,”

The state Constitution also includes a ban on interracial marriage, though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such marriages to be fully legal in all states in 1967. “The Legislature shall never pass any law to authorize or legalize any marriage between any white person and a Negro, or descendant of a negro,” the state Constitution still says.

And it includes descriptions of former voting requirements that were generally used to disenfranchise Black residents, including literacy tests and poll taxes. (The Constitution, written before women won the right to vote nationally, also includes language restricting voting to men.)

Two previous failed efforts to remove the section on school segregation — which was outlawed nationally by the Supreme Court in its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision — were complicated by a related debate over a 1956 state amendment that said Alabama did not recognize any right to a publicly funded education whatsoever, language that was aimed at thwarting the ruling on desegregation.

When advocates tried to get rid of both passages at once in 2004, opponents argued that the result would be higher taxes to increase school funding. Then in 2012, an effort to get rid of the segregation language without touching the public funding language drew opposition from school advocates — ultimately leaving the Constitution as it was.

“I am tired of being treated as a second-class citizen, and terms like ‘colored,’ that are throughout the constitution, play a part in that feeling,” said Marva Douglas, an actress and retired teacher.
Credit…Andi Rice for The New York Times

To Representative Merika Coleman, a Democrat and the assistant minority leader in the Alabama House of Representatives, getting rid of outdated and racist language is an opportunity to improve the state’s reputation.

Last summer, she recalled, just when many residents were participating in ceremonies honoring the life of the civil rights leader John Lewis, one of her State House colleagues participated in a celebration of the birthday of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

“That story made the national news,” she said. “All of the negative images that come from here make the news.”

Ms. Coleman wants the reputation of Alabama as intolerant and racist to change. “Collectively, we are not those folks that were celebrating the birthday of the K.K.K.,” she said. “That’s not who we are.”

She also worries about the impact of the current Constitution’s effect on schoolchildren.

“If your image, based on what we’re talking specifically about the Constitution, is that you are not worthy enough to vote, you are not worthy enough to marry who you love, you are not worthy enough to have the best education possible, what does that say about who you are?” she asked. “And what about the superiority complex that it creates in non-people of color?”

The project, if successful, will also allow the state to streamline the entire document — the longest state Constitution in the country — making it easier to navigate and understand and removing other sorts of outdated provisions.

Representative Coleman, who sponsored the constitutional amendment that set the redrafting in motion and now chairs the committee considering changes to the charter, also sees the removal of racist language as an entry point to conversations about current-day policies that disproportionately affect Black residents. She points to a passage on “involuntary servitude,” which is illegal except in the case of people convicted of crimes. The practice, she said, has disproportionately affected Black Americans, who for decades have been sentenced to toil on prison farms and to do other forms of prison labor.

“We’re having real-deal conversations where people may not have been having those conversations before, conversations we should have had a long time ago,” Ms. Coleman said.

Tariro Mzezewa is a national correspondent covering the American South. @tariro

Panel hones in on racist sections in Alabama Constitution

An advisory panel for a voter-approved effort to make changes to the 120-year-old Alabama Constitution is studying three sections that had racist language or racist intent.

The Committee on the Recompilation of the Constitution held a public hearing at the State House this morning. The committee did not make recommendations because it is still receiving public comments.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the recompilation project by a 2-to-1 margin in November 2020. In May, the Legislature passed a resolution setting up the 10-member recompilation committee.

    • Remove all racist language
    • Delete duplicative and repealed provisions
    • Consolidate provisions regarding economic development
    • Arrange all local amendments by county of application.

The recompilation committee, which includes six lawmakers and four others, will advise Lathram, whose draft will go to the Legislature next year. If approved by three-fifths of representatives and senators, it would go on the ballot for voters in November 2022.

This morning, Lathram made a presentation to the committee and distributed a memo about sections of the constitution that have been called into question as racist or potentially racist.

The framers of the 1901 Constitution made clear their intent was to keep Blacks from voting and preserve white supremacy. “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.
Although federal laws and court rulings have nullified the provisions intended to preserve segregation and disenfranchise and deny full citizenship to Black voters, some remain in the document.
Today, the panel discussed Section 32, which outlawed slavery: “That no form of slavery shall exist in this state; and there shall not be any involuntary servitude, otherwise than for the punishment of crime, of which the party shall have been duly convicted.”

The authorization of involuntary servitude for punishment of a crime could qualify as a racist provision because it was used to force many Blacks back into labor, including the seasonal agricultural work for which slaves were no longer available, Lathram said.

African Americans made up more than 90% of convicts forced to work at farms, lumber yards and coal mines under Alabama’s convict-lease system, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Lathram said about 19 other states had similar language on involuntary servitude in their constitutions. He said voters in Colorado, Nebraska, and Utah voted to repeal the language during the last three years, and voters in Tennessee will consider that next year.

Removal of the involuntary servitude phrase from Section 32 would have no effect on Alabama’s policies for incarceration and work programs for prisoners, Lathram said, because those are governed by other sections of state law.

Lathram noted that almost identical language allowing involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime is included in the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery.

The committee planned to vote on whether to recommend removal of the involuntary servitude clause and other sections discussed today. But the panelists decided to delay voting until their next meeting because they are still accepting public comments about the project. The last day to send comments is Tuesday.

Submit comments.

Some of the commenters questioned the value of the recompilation project, Lathram said, suggesting that it was a waste of time to revisit outdated, nullified laws. Lathram said he did not agree with that.

Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, who sponsored the constitutional amendment starting the process and who chairs the recompilation committee, said the recompilation project is important.

“One hundred percent there’s value in what we’re doing, because that constitution sets up who we are as a state,” Coleman said. “It sends a message out about who we are. It is important for us to let folks know we are a 21st century Alabama, that we’re not the same Alabama of 1901 that didn’t want Black and white folks to get married, that didn’t think that Black and white children should go to school together.

“On the economic development side, we also want folks to know we’re open for business. We want people to come to the state of Alabama, spend your tax dollars, and that we again are a state that is this 21st century state, all kinds of different people, all kinds of different cultures, and we do not reflect what was in that 1901 constitution.”

Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, a recompilation committee member, said it’s important that the constitution does not stand at odds with how Alabama is today.

“I think words matter,” Garrett said. “And I think we need to just clean the constitution up, make it a document that is relevant today. We have a history that we’re trying to address. And we’re trying to move from the past to the future. And I think this is an obstacle in many ways.

“I think it’s important that as a state with our history that we acknowledge where we want to go. And where we want to go is not where we’ve been necessarily.”

The other two sections of the constitution discussed today were Section 256 and Section 259.

Section 259 says revenue from poll taxes goes to support public schools in counties where they are collected. The section is inoperative because Alabama no longer imposes poll taxes, which effectively disenfranchised many Blacks and poor white voters.

Lathram said Section 259 is the last remnant of poll taxes in the Alabama Constitution. Others were repealed in the 1990s.

Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, a committee member, made a motion today for the committee to vote to recommend removal of Section 259. But the committee decided to postpone voting on any recommendations because public comments are still coming in.

Section 256 is more complicated. Section 256 says, in part, “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.”

That segregation requirement became unconstitutional after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954.

But two previous efforts to strip it from the Alabama Constitution faltered when the issue became entangled with another part of Section 256.
In 1956, in response to the Brown v. Board ruling that would require integrated public schools, Alabama voters ratified Amendment 111, which amended Section 256, saying, “Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense.”

That became an issue in 2004, when a proposed amendment would have repealed the segregated schools requirement and poll tax language, as well as the part of Amendment 111 saying there was no right to a publicly funded education.

Opponents of the 2004 amendment, , including former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, said taking out the language that there was no right to a publicly funded education could open the door for a court to order tax increases for education. Proponents disputed that because the state Supreme Court had ruled in 2002 that only the Legislature could increase taxes. But the opponents prevailed in a close vote, rejecting the amendment by a margin of less than 1 percentage point.

In 2012, a similar amendment would have repealed the school segregation and poll tax language but would not have touched the language from Amendment 111 that there was no right to a publicly funded education. That drew opposition from the Alabama Education Association and others who argued for stripping the language on no right to a publicly funded education. Voters rejected the amendment by about a 60-40 percent margin, again allowing the invalidated segregation clause to remain in the constitution.

Coleman has credited the organization Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, a nonprofit group started in 2000, with helping to spearhead the legislation that led to the recompilation project.

Constitution Recompilation Committee

The next Constitution Recompilation Committee meeting will be Thursday September 2nd at 10:00 in room 200 of the State House, 200 South Union Street in Montgomery.

The subject to be discussed will be Racist Language.

The public is invited to attend and to submit questions and concerns to [email protected] or to call 334-261-0690.

The meeting on the 2nd can also be watched on www.legislature.state.al.us under Resources and then Media. It is listed as House Committee Room 200.

All information about the meetings is available on lsa.state.al.us under news.

Committee that could help remove racist language from Alabama Constitution meets

Brian Lyman  Montgomery Advertiser
August 24, 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."

Legislators on Tuesday took the first formal steps in a process that could eliminate racist language in the Alabama Constitution — and, maybe, make it more readable.

The Committee on the Recompilation of the Constitution met for the first time Tuesday morning to hear a presentation on ways to reorganize local amendments in the state’s government document. The committee, which will carry out the decrees of a constitutional amendment approved by voters last November, should take up racist language at its first meeting in September.

“It’s for citizens to know what laws apply to them,” said Othni Lathram, director of the Legislative Services Agency, in an interview after the meeting. “750-plus of the 970-some odd amendments apply in only one county or one city. The vast majority of amendments we talk about are local amendments.”

Alabama’s 1901 Constitution disenfranchised Black Alabamians and poor whites, and supporters made explicitly racists appeals to white voters to enact it. The day the Constitution received approval — likely through massive fraud in the Black Belt — the Montgomery Advertiser announced that “The Citizens of Alabama Declare For White Supremacy and Purity of Ballot.”

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.

A 2004 proposal to remove the language would also have jettisoned Amendment 111. The proposal drew the opposition of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and others who claimed that it would jeopardize private schools and lead to tax increases. The amendment failed to pass by about 2,000 votes, out of 1.4 million cast.

A 2012 amendment to remove the racist language would have retained Amendment 111. The Alabama Education Association and Black legislators campaigned against the proposal, saying it could complicate efforts to increase public school funding in Alabama. Almost 61% of voters that year voted no on the proposal.

Last year’s amendment passed with about 67% of the vote. The committee will submit a proposed amendment to the Legislature for consideration next year that would remove racist language and reorganize the Constitution. But Nancy Ekburg with Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, said at the meeting that the committee would not rewrite the state’s governing document.

“We don’t have a mandate to rewrite the Constitution,” she said. “I want to make sure people understand that. We are only recompiling the document.”

Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, who sponsored last November’s amendment and chaired Tuesday’s meeting , has said removal of the language would be a symbolic act that could show Alabama trying to move on from its racist past.

Lathram said he plans to make presentations on the racist language within the state’s governing document at the scheduled Sept. 2 meeting.

The committee will also look at amendments focused on economic development.

If the Legislature approves the changes proposed by the committee, the measure will go to voters for approval in November 2022.

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

Committee for recompiling state constitution holds public hearing, work to continue

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

August 24, 2021

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The committee charged with making the state’s monster constitution more user friendly and less racist is now taking written public comments.

Only one speaker attended the public hearing for the committee on recompilation of the constitution on Tuesday at the State House, but a two-week period for written comments to be sent to the committee was also approved.

Committee Chair Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, said during Tuesday’s meeting that she knows some members of the public could not come today because of concerns over COVID-19.

“We want the public to have the opportunity to let their voices be heard, to talk about the provisions they feel are racist or talk about the recompilation and how we should do it itself, so we want to give the public two weeks so they can go on the LSA website, put their comments in or contact the Legislature to know what they’re comments are,” Coleman said.

People wishing to submit a comment now have until Sept. 7. Those can be sent by email to Othni Lathram, director of the Legislative Services Agency, at [email protected] or by calling 334-261-0690.

The committee was created after Alabama voters approved a recompilation amendment during the 2020 general election allowing the Legislature to revise the state constitution that was ratified in 1901.

The revisions are limited to removing racist language, deleting duplicative or repealed provisions, consolidating economic development provisions and arranging all local constitutional amendments by the county of application.

Lathram explained to committee members on Tuesday why reorganizing the constitution by county is the best way forward.

“The idea would be that a person living in any particular county, Montgomery for example, should instead be able to go to a listing for the county of Montgomery and see there any amendments that affect them in their local county, in a way that’s much more accessible,” Lathram said.

The current version of the constitution, considered the nation’s longest, has over 950 amendments, most of which are county or municipal amendments and are listed in chronological order from when they were approved.

The only person to sign up for the public hearing was Jackie Antoline, a Mobile native, who said she was happy this process is taking place but wishes more information was available online of what actions the committee is considering or will be taking up.

“In order to have public input the public needs to be informed,” Antoline said.

Nancy Ekberg, a lobbyist for the group Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, said she wants to make sure the public knows this effort is simply about reorganizing the constitution.

“We don’t have a mandate to rewrite the constitution,” Ekberg said. “…We are only recompiling the existing document.”

The committee will vote on the method of reorganizing the constitution and further discuss the removal of the racist language at its next meeting on Sept. 2.

Lathram said the racist language identified mainly occurs in three areas: the prohibition of slavery except for when it comes to incarcerated labor; the poll tax; and language dealing with K-12 education and segregation of schools.

Lathram said he expects to have a draft of the new recompiled version of the constitution done by November so the Legislature can consider it in the next regular legislative session. If it is approved, Alabama voters will then vote on it in the 2022 general election.

All documents related to the committee and meeting times can be found on the Legislative Service Agency’s website.

Effort begins to remove racist language, recompile Alabama Constitution

1901 Constitution

Alabama’s 1901 Constitution was aimed at keeping blacks and poor whites from voting and achieved the framers’ intent.

A voter-approved effort to remove racist language from the Alabama Constitution and reorganize the heavily amended, 120-year-old document in a more understandable way began today at the State House. The Legislative Committee on the Recompilation of the Constitution met for the first time and heard a presentation from Othni Lathram, director of the Legislative Services Agency. The committee will advise Lathram, who has the task of drafting a recompiled constitution and submitting it to legislators next year. If lawmakers approve the new document, it would go on the ballot for voters to have the final say.

Earlier this year, Coleman and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, sponsored a resolution creating the 10-member advisory commission, a measure Gov. Kay Ivey signed in May. Coleman said the reform was a bipartisan effort. She has said Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, a non-profit group started in 2000, spearheaded the plan and helped convince lawmakers to support it.
The Alabama Constitution, ratified in 1901, was intended to concentrate power in the Legislature and preserve white supremacy and racial segregation. Federal court decisions nullified some sections decades ago, but they remain in the constitution. Those include Section 256, which says: 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.
Section 259 authorized poll taxes. Section 32 prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude but includes an exception for the punishment of a crime. At today’s meeting, Lathram gave some of the history of the document, which was Alabama’s sixth state constitution, the first coming at the time of statehood in 1819. Others came with secession from the Union in 1861, the return to the Union in 1865, the Reconstruction era of 1868, and the rollback of Reconstruction and reassertion of white supremacy in 1875.

 

Lathram said amendments to the 1901 Constitution began soon after it was ratified because it was so restrictive in certain areas. For example, it did not allow public funds to be used for improvements such as roads, schools, and courthouses. Voters have now approved 977 amendments to the constitution, and 13 more will be on the ballot next year.

Coleman said the committee will hold a public hearing in August to allow people to share their ideas about the process. A date has not been picked, she said. Information about the committee’s work, including today’s presentation, will be posted the Legislative Services Agency’s website. Here is the link.

“We want to make sure the public trusts the process and gets a chance to engage in the process,” Coleman said.  She said the goal is to have the draft completed in November so that the public will have a full month to review it before the legislative session starts in January. If approved by the Legislature, it would go on the ballot in November 2022.
Even though the racist provisions like segregated schools have been invalidated, Coleman said it is important to erase them from the state constitution. “We want to send a message to the country, the world, that we are a 21st century Alabama,” Coleman said. “That is not who we are anymore. “I just love economic development, tourism. We want to get people to bring their dollars into the state of Alabama. But that constitution itself sends a message that we don’t want certain people to come here. So we want to change that document, say that we’re open for business, and you’re welcome to the state of Alabama.”

Alabama Legislative Services Agency Director Othni Lathram

Alabama Legislative Services Agency Director Othni Lathram speaks to the committee to recompile the state constitution on July 8, 2021.

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]