legal segregation ended decades ago in alabama. sadly, civil rights workers & community rights activists suffered the wrath of fire hoses, police dogs & racism in the early 60's. but segregation is still mandated by the state's constitution; voters on november 6 will get their second chance in recent years to eliminate an anachronism that still exists on paper.
amendment four - the proposal to delete the constitution's archaic language affirming segregation - is tucked amid routine issues of bonds, city boundaries & sewers on a crowded election day ballot. in 2004 the state narrowly voted to keep the outdated & racially controversial language, which brought national ridicule upon itself.
ironically, alabama's two largest black political groups are opposed. they say the proposed changes would erase some of the polarizing text, but would retain segregation-era language saying there is no constitutional right to a public education. also, the state's main teachers' group back them in a "no" vote. supporters of amendment four say it's time to shed the last reminders of an era of discrimination & project a more welcoming image of a modern state eager to draw companies & jobs to alabama.
the people of alabama were not reluctant to amend the 111-year old constitution in the past. in fact, they've approved more than 800 amendments in their history, making theirs the nation's longest state constitution. it is now four times longer than the average constitution & on november 6 alabama could get 30 more amendments added to its heft.
but making changes involving segregationist language often is vexing difficult. for example, the u.s. supreme court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in 1967. however, it wasn't until 2000 when alabama voters removed the state constitution's ban on interracial marriage. even still, 40 percent of the people voted to keep the controversial ban.
today, black groups are leading the opposition to change. the alabama democratic conference & the alabama new south alliance say the change, backed largely by white republicans with a pro-business approach, looks like a "feel good" change but is not. said black democratic senator hank sanders of selma, a new south founder, "it is a wolf in sheep's clothing. it seems so good but is so bad."
amendment four would excise antiquated language regarding poll taxes & separate schools many people consider to be racist in origin. nonetheless, critics say the language being proposed in the amendment as a substitute undermines funding for public education by reaffirming there is no right to a public education at taxpayers' expense in alabama.
alabama's constitution once provided for "a liberal system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of the children." but after the u.s. supreme court banned school segregation in 1954, folks' attitudes changed. irate alabama citizens voted in 1956 to amend the constitution & subsequently thwart the prospects of societal integration.
republican state senator arthur orr of decatur - amendment four's sponsor - said he knows other states have used the racist language against alabama when competing for industries. said orr, "it's important symbolically to send a message to our sister states & to the world that alabama is a different place than it was 50 years ago."
orr's proposal drew support from republican governor robert bentley, alabama's chief recruiter for new industry. alabama has had success in recent years luring major industries, including an airbus assembly plant for mobile, & securing expansions at its auto assembly plants. also, the governor vowed not to take a salary until the state's 8.3 percent unemployment rate dropped to 5.2 percent.
no black members of the legislature voted for orr's proposal last year when lawmakers decided to put it on the november 6 ballot. sanders & joe reed, chairman of the alabama democratic conference, said no one pays attention to the school segregation & poll tax language because it has been effectively dead for 50 years. they said removing it is not worth the cost of restating there is no right to a public education.
the alabama education association (aea) saw public education funding drop more than $1 billion in the past five years. class sizes increased, some school revenue shifted to non-education functions of government & teaching positions were cut. they worry if voters reiterate there is no right to a public education, a cash-strapped legislature will move even more money away from public schools to other functions. aea attorney bobby segall said, "it has all kinds of implications in the future for the diversion of education funds & for the funding of education generally."
orr sought to word the amendment by seeking to strip harmful language on segregation without entangling himself in the tax issue. said orr, "in 2004, alabama took a black eye because the amendment was voted down...what they heard outside the state is alabama votes to reaffirm its commitment to segregationist language & poll taxes. they didn't understand the argument over the full potential for increased property taxes."
retired university of alabama law professor martha morgan, an expert on alabama's constitution, says voting"no" on november 6 is likely to give the state another black eye. morgan said," it's better to get a black eye than to inflict a mortal wound to public education by taking away the right to public education." no matter the outcome, the issue could divide alabama again next year. othni lathram, director of the alabama law institute, said a state commission working on updating alabama's constitution is already scheduled to take up the document's education provisions in 2013.
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.