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Alabama seeks to purge racist sections of constitution

MONTGOMERY, Alabama (AP) – The Alabama Constitution still has language stating that schools must be segregated by race and people must pay local taxes to vote.

Although these provisions have long been invalidated by court decisions, they remain in the main governing document of the State.

One hundred and twenty years after the state constitution of 1901 was approved, activists and lawmakers hope they will soon be able to do away with racist written language to cement white supremacy.

The Committee on the Recompilation of the Constitution heard this week recommendations to remove the language about segregated schools, local taxes and the language that allowed a brutal convict lease system that sold African-American men at work strength.

The panel is expected to take a final vote in the coming weeks, putting the proposal forward to lawmakers in early 2022 and potentially to state voters in November 2022.

“Our state’s constitution reflects who we are,” Representative Merika Coleman, who chairs the committee and sponsored legislation to put the process in place. “These racist provisions of this constitution and these outdated provisions – we hope that’s not what we are. We certainly know that we are not a 1901 Alabama and we have to reflect that in the document. “

The drafters of the 1901 constitution were clear that their goal was to maintain a government controlled by white people.

“The new constitution eliminates the vote of ignorant blacks and places control of our government where Almighty God intended – with the Anglo-Saxon race,” John Knox, president of the constitutional convention, said in a speech urging voters to ratify the document.

The committee heard recommendations on Wednesday from the director of the Legislative Services Agency to remove language related to local taxes, segregating schools and allowing involuntary servitude as a “punishment for a crime.” Committee members expressed no objection.

“What I’m reading from today’s action is that the committee is generally comfortable with the direction I have proposed on racist language, would like to know how the whole project fits together “, Othni Lathram, director of the Legislative Services Agency.

A section of the current constitution says: “there will be no involuntary servitude, other than for the punishment of a crime, the part of which has been duly condemned”. It enabled a system of convict labor system in which black Alabamians, often arbitrarily arrested, were forced to work in mines and labor camps.

Following the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that said racially segregated schools were unconstitutional, Alabama passed Constitutional Amendment 111 allowing parents to elect that students “attend schools designated for their purposes. own race ”. It also allowed elected officials to intervene in schools for the “maintenance of peace and order”. Peace and order was a phrase used to justify the struggle against integration efforts.

Alabama continued to fight inclusive education for more than a decade after the 1954 Brown v. Board. President John F. Kennedy in 1963 sent National Guard troops to the University of Alabama to force its desegregation. It took years of legal battles for Alabama’s schools to fall apart.


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