Skip to comments.Black lawmakers, AEA urge voters to reject amendment taking Jim Crow language out
Posted on 10/27/2012 8:03:27 AM PDT by chasio649
Section 256 of the Alabama Constitution dictates that "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." Other portions describe how poll tax revenue should be used.
The words were invalidated by the courts long ago, but they remain in the 111-year-old Alabama Constitution, a written reminder of the state's segregationist past.
Alabama voters on Nov. 6 will get a second opportunity to remove the Jim Crow language after a similar measure was defeated in 2004. But some African-American legislators, as well as the Alabama Education Association, are urging people to vote against the proposed amendment, concerned that even the new measure keeps other segregation-era language saying there is no constitutional right to an education in Alabama.
Supporters of Amendment 4 on the November ballot say a no vote sends the message that Alabama is still living in the time of segregated schools and drinking fountains.
"I think our state is a much different state than it was 50 years ago. I think it is important for Alabamians -- black, white, brown, doesn't matter -- to send a message that this is a different Alabama than it was several decades ago, and we are moving forward as a state," said Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.
Orr, who sponsored the 2011 legislation to put the issue on the November ballot, says it will not affect education rights or school funding, an opinion shared by a state law professor and the director of the Alabama Law Institute.
But others are urging voters to reject the amendment because they fear it could have implications for court and political fights over school funding
"It's a wolf in sheep's clothing," said Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma.
Sanders said the proposed language maintains wording added to the state constitution in the 1950 s saying "nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense."
Sanders said he is concerned the amendment would further embed the idea that education is not a right and make it difficult to boost funding for public schools and easier to take money away from public schools for vouchers or charter schools.
"It puts you in, for lack of a better word, a hell of a position. You'd like to have that (segregation) language out. It is still a blight on Alabama ... But instead of shooting yourself in the foot, you could end up shooting yourself in the heart," Sanders said.
"It is more subterfuge that substance," Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, said of the vote on Nov. 6 . Newton said he is "absolutely" voting against it.
The Alabama New South Alliance and the Alabama Democratic Conference, the state's two powerful black political groups, are urging voters to reject Amendment 4, Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, said.
However Orr vehemently disagreed and said Amendment 4 has nothing to do with school funding or education rights.
"It is solely focused on the racist language and the poll taxes," Orr said.
Howard Walthall, a law professor at Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, agreed with Orr. He said the amendment strikes the segregation language and does nothing to "alter the playing field" over school funding.
Othni Lathram, director of the Alabama Law Institute, the state agency charged with code revision, also agreed.
"In my opinion this would not have any impact on the rights, funding, implementing, or structure of public education in Alabama as it currently stands, but would instead only strike the language reflecting vestiges of segregation in schools," Lathram wrote in a letter to Orr.
Sanders said he understands others disagree with his interpretation, but he would rather be cautious.
The fight over Amendment 4 goes back to the legal debate over whether education is something the state must provide "liberally" or just can do as it see fits.
The original Section 256 of the 1901 Constitution, while it called for segregated schools, also said it was the duty of the state to "maintain a liberal system of public schools."
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, Alabama voters in 1956 took out the "liberal" wording and added the no right to an education language via Amendment 111.
Despite the no right to an education language, Montgomery Circuit Judge Gene Reese ruled in 1993 that students had a constitutional right to a fairly funded education.
The trial court ruled that racist intent underlying Amendment 111 made it unconstitutional and the "liberal system of public schools" was the true constitutional mandate of the state.
But that part of the equity case was not appealed and ruled on by a court of last resort, so Amendment 111 and the no right language survives as the law of the state, according to code commissioner notes in the recompiled version of the Alabama Constitution.
The notes also point out that the question of the status of Section 256 "is complex and controversial." The Alabama Education Association, which is opposing Amendment 4, disagrees. AEA Executive Secretary Henry Mabry said the Reese ruling struck down the "no right" language, and he believes Amendment 4 would put it back.
"Amendment 4 deletes language that guarantees our children a right to an education and replaces it with language that says there is no right to an education," Mabry said.
The concerns raised by black lawmakers and AEA are 180 degrees opposite of those raised by some conservatives in the last effort to remove the segregation and poll tax language.
Rep. James Buskey, D-Mobile, tried to get the racist language removed in 2004. Buskey's bill also deleted the "no right" language. But former Chief Justice Roy Moore and others urged people to vote no in 2004 saying it could possibly give judges an opening to order tax increases for schools. Voters narrowly rejected the proposal.
Orr said the headlines across the world after the 2004 vote were only that Alabama voters wanted to keep segregationist language in the Constitution. So he tried to steer clear of the tax increase controversy and get a bill he thought voters would approve.
"My focus was solely on the racist language component," Orr said.
Orr said he fears the state will get yet another black eye if voters refuse, for a second time, to take out the segregation language.
The Decatur Republican said he has heard that other states have used that against Alabama when they compete to land industries.
"Others may try to subtly dredge up stereotype images of Alabama, the fire hoses and the attack dogs, and 'Oh they even have racist language in their state Constitution,'" Orr said.
"It's an important step for us, as all Alabamians, to say this is a different state and we are moving forward," Orr said.
This kind of stupidity steams me every time. Celebrate the death of Jim Crow and let that ignorant language remind us daily of what once was........I repeat......... WAS!!!
No legislator represents all their constituents. They all represent only a segment of their constituents.
I say blacks just ought to cram stuff up their rear. How about that?
I say NO ONE has a right to a free education,free medical care,free housing, free cellphone,free food,free clothing,or anything else forcibly taken from other people!!!!