Alabama voters keep Jim Crow language in constitution

theGRIO REPORT - Alabama voters turned down an amendment to the state's constitution in Tuesday's elections that would have removed racist language from the document...

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Alabama voters turned down an amendment to the state’s constitution in Tuesday’s elections that would have removed racist language from the document, according to

Amendment 4, the only one out of eleven constitutional amendments on the ballot not to pass, was set to remove requirements for poll taxes and requirements for separate schools for black and white children. It was voted against by 61 percent of voters.

The section of the constitution regarding separate schools reads:

The legislature shall establish, organize, and maintain a liberal system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of the children … 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.”

Those who were in support of a revision argued that though federal law renders the requirements invalid, the language is not a positive reflection on the state.

“It’s important to address this issue and show that Alabama is a much different place than it was in the past,” Arthur Orr, the Republican state senator who sponsored the amendment, told the Anniston Star.

But to the surprise of some, black legislators were against voting in favor of it. They, and the Alabama Education Association, were worried the amendment would have done more harm than good because it includes controversial language from a 1956 amendment, which reads, “… nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense.”

This is the second time lawmakers have tried to pass legislation that would remove the mention of poll taxes and separate schools from the constitution. The first time, in 2004, the amendment didn’t pass because conservatives believed removing the above statement that doesn’t guarantee a right to education, would have led to tax increases.

This time around, Orr said, the amendment included the statement but now Democratic opponents were against it. They feared that passing the amendment would have put children’s right to public education and the funding structure of the system at risk.

“It has all kinds of implications in the future for the diversion of education funds and for the funding of education generally,” Montgomery attorney Bobby Segall told the Times Free Press before the amendment was voted on.

Now that it’s been struck down, Henry Mabry, executive secretary of the AEA, said, “The defeat of Amendment 4 should send a clear message to Montgomery that the rights of our school children to a public education should stand. Alabama spoke tonight, and the state’s people said they value a public education for our children.”

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