Alabama aims to cut racist language from its constitution
The document that outlines, limits and dictates how the state is governed was created in 1901 and contains clauses that maintain racial inequality, such as segregation in schools.
In an effort to reform it, the Committee to Recompilation of the Constitution was established in November 2020. They are attempting to find the best way to remove remaining traces of Jim Crow laws and the agreed-upon changes will be put to a public vote, expected to take place in 2022.
For example, current phrases in the constitution state: “Separate schools shall be provided for white and coloured children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.”
The US Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in state-funded schools in 1954.
“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,” Marieka Coleman, a Democratic state representative, told the Associated Press.
The effort is a bipartisan move as Republicans also serve on the committee, including Rep Danny Garrett.
He told the AP: “I think words matter, 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.”
The committee will reconvene on 13 October to vote on removing the constitution’s approval of involuntary servitude as a penalty for criminal behaviour. This led to Black men found guilty of minor offences into forced labour on farms and in coal mines.
Legal experts testified to the committee that it was important to rectify the constitution, despite many of its proponents being illegal now.
“There is a recurring theme amongst the public comments that we don’t need to concern ourselves with things that are no longer operable, That segregation is no longer allowed. It is illegal. We all know it’s illegal. Who cares that it’s in the Constitution. I disagree with that,” Othni Lathram, the director of the Legislative Service Agencies told the committee, according to the Alabama Political Reporter. “I think the words in our Constitution matter.”