Editorial: Constitution confusion — Racist language in state document must have emphatic re-wording
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Aug 13, 2013 | 2329 views |  0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Like a nightclub dancer in New York, Alabama is performing a soft-shoe routine around the racist language embedded in the state’s 1901 Constitution.

A gentle step here, a tip-toe movement there, little that would rumble the joint. No feet-stomping this time around. Heaven forbid that anyone gets upset.

That’s too bad, really, considering the topic. Any right-minded person should recognize the embarrassment that is the state’s governing document. It was written by landowning, well-to-do white men who had the expressed goal to consolidate power in Montgomery and limit blacks and poor whites’ access to the ballot box. They did their job well.

By doing so, they created modern-day Alabama government, where the state Legislature — though now racially diverse, thankfully — is still judge and jury on all sorts of local issues best left for local board to decide.

As for that racist language, it’s Alabama’s albatros. Be gone, we say — emphatically. But those charged with drafting changes to the state Constitution are choosing subtlety over shock, hoping a calm approach will gain voter approval.

Time will tell.

But, alas, nothing is effortless when discussing the remaking of the state Constitution. Last week, the Constitutional Revision Commission approved changes to the document’s section that deals specifically with education. Savvy Alabamians will recognize that we’ve been down this road before.

If approved by the Legislature and voters, the new language would say the state “will maintain a system of public schools.” Likewise, the document will that “nothing in this section shall create any judicially enforceable right.”

Yes, that’s overwritten legalese that, to reuse our illustration, tip-toes around the problems at hand. As reporter Tim Lockette explained it in Tuesday’s Star, twice voters have shot down changes to this section of the Constitution: once due to fears for codifying the legality of fiscal equality among all school districts, and once because black voters didn’t want to vote for essentially a document that says there is “no right” to a free education.

It’s a confusing mess.

Thus, the Constitutional Revision Commission has penned changes designed to offend no one and be approved. History shows that in Alabama, that may not be possible.

It’s embarrassing that Alabama in 2013 still has racist language in its Constitution, and it’s just as embarrassing that removing that language is making the commission step so lightly around what’s so obvious.

Alabama’s governing document needs to be a reflection of a state that attempts to educate its children, regardless of color or creed, to the best of its ability.
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