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Committee approves plan to remove racist language from state constitution

The plan, which also reorganizes the amendments, has to be approved by the Legislature and voters.

The Alabama Constitution

A joint legislative committee on Wednesday gave final approval to a plan that would remove some of the racist language from Alabama’s 1901 Constitution and group together amendments by county in order to make the lengthy document easier to read. 

The Joint Interim Committee on the Recompilation of the Constitution voted unanimously on the changes. Its recommendations will now go to the full state legislature for the 2022 session that begins in January. If approved by the legislature, voters will have the final say in November. 

The changes affect three sections, removing language that allowed involuntary servitude for the punishment of a crime, language that directed that poll tax money be used to fund education and language that sought to undermine the Brown v. Board Supreme Court ruling by using “peace and order” to maintain segregation. 

“This is huge, this is historical,” Committee Chairperson Rep. Merika Coleman said following the vote Wednesday. “Now the work begins in the legislative process.”

Alabama’s 1901 Constitution was crafted to protect and further the cause of white supremacy, and the framers made no secret of that goal. Many of its founding principles still guide the state today, and it has traditionally been used as a tool to disenfranchise and mistreat Black citizens and the poor of all races. 

Many of the constitution’s most egregious laws and amendments have been rendered moot thanks to federal laws and various federal court decisions. But the racist language remained in the document — a fact that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle found embarrassing. 

For example, Alabama’s convict labor program, which amounted to slavery in another form, was discontinued in the late 1920s, but the language allowing it remained. Same for the portion that used “peace and order” — a phrase used to signify essentially Jim Crow laws — to maintain segregation in Alabama public schools. 

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In addition to removing the racist language, the committee’s recommendation also includes a reorganization of the constitution’s 980 amendments. As it reads currently, each county amendment is added by the year it is passed. Under the new proposal, the amendments, while remaining in chronological order, would also be grouped by county. 

The hope, the committee said, was to make the world’s longest constitution somewhat more readable.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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