Alabama moved one step closer to removing segregationist language from its state constitution on Monday when the Alabama Constitutional Review Commission voted to propose an elimination of a requirement for separate schools for "white and colored children" from the document. Of course, the removal would be more or less symbolic — that provision doesn't actually hold any legal authority at this point, since the civil rights movement.
The legislature shall establish, organize, and maintain a liberal system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of the children thereof between the ages of seven and twenty-one years. The public school fund shall be apportioned to the several counties in proportion to the number of school children of school age therein, and shall be so apportioned to the schools in the districts or townships in the counties as to provide, as nearly as practicable, school terms of equal duration in such school districts or townships. Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.
The vote, surprisingly, was not unanimous: the Review Commission's vote was 9-7 in favor. It's also the third attempt in recent years to remove the language — the other two failed based on claims that the removal of the passage could affect the state's obligation to fund its schools. The Anniston Star explains:
Voters narrowly rejected a rewrite in 2004 because of concern from conservatives, who worried that the rewrite would also eliminate a passage that states that education is not a right. Opponents of the 2004 proposal said that without the "no-rights" wording, a long-undecided lawsuit could allow courts to demand equal funding in each of the state's school systems.
The current proposal is the result of a compromise, which would eliminate the racist language while adding a phrase noting that "nothing in this section shall create any judicially enforceable right or obligation."
Alabama is actually in the middle of a larger revision process to their state constitution, which was even described by the people who wrote it in 1901 as "white supremacist." In addition to the school provisions, the constitution also effectively disenfranchised poor and black voters in the state (in part with literacy tests), outlawed homosexual voters and those in interracial relationships, and barred interracial marriages, for example. Those provisions are all either overruled legally by federal laws, court decisions, or by state amendments to the constitution, yet their continued inclusion in the state's last ratified constitution has proven itself symbolically problematic.
The proposal must be approved by both the legislature and the voters before an amendment removes the language from the constitution.The commission has also proposed an equal protection clause for the legislature to consider adding to the ballot when they meet again in regular session, in 2014.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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