Last week, a bill sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R- Decatur, to remove discriminatory language regarding poll taxes and segregated schools from the state's 1901 constitution was passed without the approval of black legislators. The Alabama House of Representatives will now have their say on the bill called a "farce" by black members.
Defending his position, Orr said he believed the bill would send a message of intolerance for such language in the Constitution. Perhaps, more importantly, he believes the current constitution hurts the state's image.
The black legislators, however, don't want to limit constitutional amendments to racist "language." They want to change constitutional provisions that lead to inequities, such as in school funding. According to Sen. Bobby Singleton, "We need to reform the entire constitution."
Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham agrees. "This bill to me is a farce. It's a smokescreen. We know there are disparities."
Cam Ward, a Republican senator and supporter of the legislation said he believed that even though the racist words were nullified by federal laws, they remained a "black eye," on the state of Alabama.
I wonder too if black citizens of Alabama fear that if the language is removed from the state's constitution some might eventually try to deny the perverse and pervasive nature of Jim Crow laws during that era. Just as there are groups that deny the Holocaust happened, even as video and first person testimony confirms that it did, it is likely that some group interests might be served by denying Alabama's past. Even as the Nation commemorates the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, there are those who argue that the war wasn't about slavery when it absolutely was.
It is understandable that Senator Orr worries about the perception people have of Alabama; however, the state's image can't be changed by erasing a few words from its constitution. Indeed, Alabama's history is what it is. Its legislators can only change things going forward. They do that by making the state a place of equity for all its citizens.
Since the bill proposes a constitutional amendment, if approved by the Alabama House, voters would have to approve in a statewide referendum in November 2012. A similar measure was rejected by voters in 2004.
Note of interest: At 340,136 words the Alabama Constitution is 12 times longer than the average state constitution, 40 times longer than the U.S. Constitution, and is the longest still-operative constitution anywhere in the world. Maybe a full review and reform is in order as the black legislators want.