Voters could remove racist phrases from Alabama Constitution

Full Screen
1 / 3

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this July 26, 2020, file photo, mourners gathered at the Alabama Capitol following the death of Rep. John Lewis. Alabama voters will decide whether to remove racist, segregation-era language from the state's 1901 Constitution in the upcoming election. If approved, the measure would go back to legislators and another statewide vote. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett, File)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Alabama voters once again have the chance to remove the racist language of Jim Crow from the state's constitution, which was approved in 1901 to enshrine white supremacy as state law.

Courts have long since struck down legalized segregation, but past attempts to strip the offensive phrases have failed. Even though no organized opposition to the measure has emerged this time, some worry that conservative backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement could quash the proposal, which qualified for the ballot months before the nationwide demonstrations that occurred in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

A measure on the Nov. 3 ballot would allow the state to recompile its 119-year-old constitution in a process supporters say would remove a lingering stain from the state's era of racial segregation and the legalized oppression of Black people.

“What we are trying to do with this small measure is to bring the Alabama Constitution into the 21st century and be more reflective of who we are as a state now,” said Rep. Merika Coleman, one of the sponsors of the bipartisan legislation.

An amendment would clear the way for excising language from the constitution that bans mixed-race marriages, allows poll taxes, and mandates school segregation. It would also remove duplicate sections from the heavily amended document and put related items all in one section.

While eradicating overt racism might seem like a logical move in 2020, approval isn't a given: Voters in the majority white, conservative state have rejected similar proposals twice since 2000.

In 2004, conservatives helped kill a move to clean up the constitution by arguing the move could lead to increases in school taxes. Eight years later, education groups and others opposed a similar measure because it retained segregation-era language that denied the constitutional right to education in Alabama.

Supporters of the measure are being careful with how they present the issue this year.