Alabamans Consider Cutting Segregation Language

  • May 18, 2012
  • By Pamela Prah

Nearly 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed school segregation, voters in Alabama this fall will decide whether to rid their state constitution of  racist language adopted during the time of Jim Crow laws.  

This isn't the first time voters there will decide to remove references to school segregation and poll taxes. In 2004, voters narrowly defeated a similar amendment.

There was some concern in 2004 that certain language regarding education could lead to higher property taxes if courts interpreted the provision to require more spending on education.

“This is the most deceptive piece of legislation I have ever seen, and it is simply a fraud on the people of Alabama,” former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore told The Associated Press before the vote in 2004. Moore said the proposal was really about school funding, not outlawed Jim Crow language. He gained national attention when he refused to remove a display of the Ten Commandments from the courtroom even after a federal judge ordered him to do so.

While voters don't pay a poll tax in Alabama and schools are no longer segregated by race, both references are still included in the state's 1901 constitution. In 2004 and last year, lawmakers passed legislation putting the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. The education language that raised concerns in 2004 is not contained in this year's amendment.

Even though the language isn't enforceable, supporters say it hurts the state's reputation. Republican state Senator Arthur Orr, who introduced the measure, said the defeat in 2004 "gave a black eye to the state" as the media reported internationally that the state wanted to retain racist language without explaining the education controversy. He told Stateline he is "confident that voters will overwhelmingly approve" this measure in November. 

But black members of the Alabama Senate did not vote in favor of Orr's bill. “This bill to me is a farce. It's a smokescreen," state Senator Linda Coleman, a Democrat, told The Birmingham News at the time the measure was considered in that chamber. "Jim Crow is still here," Coleman said.

The U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 landmark decision in Brown v Board of Education ruled  "separate but equal" education unconstitutional. A 1966 ruling by the high court outlawed poll taxes for state elections.

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