Many old provisions have long been invalidated, but the language that was specifically meant to ensure white supremacy remains.
The last time Alabama politicians rewrote their state’s constitution in 1901, their aspirations were explicitly racist: “To establish white supremacy in this state.”
John Knox, president of the Constitutional Convention, said, “The Constitution eliminates the ignorant Negro vote and puts our government in control where Almighty God intended it to be – along with the Anglo-Saxon race.” Speech encouraging voters to verify documents in that year.
One hundred and twenty years later, Jim Crow-era laws that ousted black voters and enforced segregation in Alabama, but the offensive language written into the state’s constitution, remains. Now, as communities across the South reconsider racist symbols and statues, activists in Alabama who have worked for 20 years to convince voters that it is important to rewrite their constitution – and long overdue – it See an opportunity to make ends meet.
Marva Douglas, an actress and retired teacher, said, “I’m tired of being treated as a second-class citizen, and words like ‘coloured’ are throughout the Constitution, which play a part in that sentiment.” Alabama citizens for constitutional reform in the early 2000s.
Attempts to rewrite the state’s constitution failed twice before. But last fall, voters — partially jolted by racial justice protests across the country — gave a green light. This month, a committee of lawmakers and the general public began the process of re-drafting; His work will go to voters next year before the constitution goes into effect, which will be ratified.
The reformation campaign may not be as dramatic as efforts to reform the criminal justice system or tear down federal monuments, but advocates argue that addressing racist language is an important part of reckoning with the past.
“It’s not either, it’s a continuum,” said director Paul Farber Memorial Laboratory, 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 weigh and how they are linked to the systems that structure public institutions and places and opportunities.”
Shay Farley, regional policy director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, describes the state as an attempt to signal a collective rejection of white supremacy. “We must remove the old remnants of racial segregation and legitimate oppression of black residents of Alabama,” she wrote In a letter supporting the Constitution Project.
The effort will begin by taking out passages such as Section 256, which still states that “separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of any caste shall be allowed to attend a school of another caste.” Will go.”
The state’s constitution also includes a ban on interracial marriage, although the US Supreme Court in 1967 ruled such marriage to be completely legal in all states. , or a descendant of a Negro,” the state constitution still says.
And it includes details of prior voting requirements that were typically used to deny black residents the right to vote, including literacy tests and voting taxes. (The constitution, written before women won the right to vote at the national level, also included language prohibiting men from voting.)
Two previous unsuccessful attempts to remove the clause on school segregation—which the Supreme Court had outlawed nationally in its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision—were complicated by a related debate on the 1956 State Amendment, which stated was that Alabama did not recognize any rights. For publicly funded education, language intended to thwart the regime on secession.
When advocates tried to get rid of both routes at once in 2004, opponents argued that the result would be higher taxes to increase school funding. Then in 2012, an attempt to get rid of the language of segregation without touching the language of public money sparked protests from school advocates—eventually leaving the Constitution as it is.
For Representative Marika Coleman, a Democrat and 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, when several residents were attending ceremonies honoring the life of civil rights leader John Lewis, one of his State House colleagues attended the celebration. Nathan Bedford Forrest birthday, a Confederate general and the first grand magician of the Ku Klux Klan.
“That story made national news,” she said. “All the negative images that come from here create messages.”
Ms Coleman wants Alabama’s reputation as intolerant and racist to change. “Collectively, we are not the people who were celebrating KKK’s birthday,” she said. “That’s not who we are.”
He is also concerned about the impact of the current constitution’s impact on school children.
“If your image, based on what we’re talking specifically about the Constitution, is that you’re not eligible to vote, you’re not qualified enough to marry the person you love, then you You don’t deserve the best education, what does that say about who you are?” He asked. “And what about the superiority complex that it builds in non-people of color?”
The project, if successful, would allow the state to streamline the entire document – the country’s longest state constitution – making it easier to navigate and understand and remove other kinds of outdated provisions.
Representative Coleman, who sponsored the constitutional amendment that set the re-drafting in motion and now chairs the committee considering changes to the charter, considered racist as an entry point for conversations about current-day policies. We also see the removal of language that disproportionately affects black residents. She points to a passage on “involuntary slavery,” which is illegal except in the case of those convicted of crimes. That said, the practice disproportionately affected black Americans, who have been sentenced for decades to work in prison farms and perform other forms of prison labor.
“We’re having real-deal conversations where people aren’t having those conversations before, conversations we should have had a long time ago,” Ms Coleman said.