Removing Segregationist Language From Alabama Constitution

Alabama attempts to right a wrong from 1901.

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Carolyn McKinstry, a member of the Alabama Constitution Revision Commission (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Last week the Alabama Constitution Revision Commission voted in favor of a proposal to revise the language in a section of their state's constitution allowing separate schools between black and white students.

The state constitution has been under close examination for revisions since 2011, and amendments to the article about segregated schools -- Section 256 -- have been proposed twice, according to the Anniston Star. 

If approved by the Legislature and the voters, the commission's proposal would change Section 256 to state that Alabama will "maintain a system of public schools," without any reference to segregation. The proposed wording also states that "nothing in this section shall create any judicially enforceable right."

That last phrase is a nod to a long-running debate about school funding -- a debate that has already scuttled two past amendments intended to erase segregation from the Constitution.

"It's disappointing that, 50 years later, we're still not able to agree on this," said Carolyn McKinstry, a member of the commission. 

The constitution was written in 1901, making it the oldest state constitution in the country. In addition to Section 256, the commission is attempting to revise other portions of the document where racist language exists.

Reformers also hoped to eliminate the vestiges of racism in the document. In framing the Constitution in 1901, state leaders stated that their goal was to establish white supremacy by law. Those framers set up separate black and white school systems, and funded those schools in part through poll taxes intended to block African-Americans from voting. 

That segregationist wording has had no legal force since the days of the civil rights movement, but some state leaders have said they'd like to get rid of the separate-schools passage because it's an embarrassment. 

The vote by the commission is only the first step in getting the section amended. The state Legislature must approve the commission's proposal, and then voters will get to decide.

Read more at the Anniston Star.

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