Alabama lawmakers are working to cut racist language from its state constitution dating back to 1901, when maintaining white supremacy was explicitly the law of the state.
Believe it or not, there is still wording in the state constitution that includes the use of phrases such as “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.”
You’d think that even a state like Alabama would have long purged language from its governing laws that says “white and colored children” can’t attend school together, but it still can be found in the current version.
Working to correct this is the Committee on the Recompilation of the Constitution, which was set in motion by voters in 2020. This committee will work to erase the remnants of Jim Crow laws governing segregated schools, poll taxes and other racist measures that were ruled unconstitutional in the 1950s and 1960s by federal courts.
The changes could be made by next year and voters will have to vote to accept them in 2022, according to the Associated Press.
“It sends a message out about who we are,” said Rep. Merika Coleman (D-Pleasant Grove), who chairs the committee and sponsored the constitutional amendment that started the process.
“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,” she said.
Here is more from the AP:
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.
More than 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 ruled out segregation in public schools, this language remains in Alabama’s governing document: “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.”
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.”
When the committee meets again Oct. 13, they will discuss whether or not to remove from the constitution the “authorization of involuntary servitude as criminal punishment, a provision that led to generations of Black men being convicted of trivial offenses and forced into labor on farms and lumber yards and inside coal mines under Alabama’s convict-lease system in the 20th century,” according to the AP.