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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Orr to Sponsor Amendment to Remove Racist Language from State Constitution

Racist language in the 1901 Alabama Constitution might be a thing of the past. But the constitution would likely keep its status as one of the most amended constitutions in the world.

State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, announced Thursday that he will sponsor a bill in the upcoming 2011 regular legislative session to remove racist and offensive language from the 1901 Alabama Constitution, according to a press release.

The regular session starts March 1.
If passed by the Legislature, the measure would have to be ratified into law by voters during a referendum election. If the voters approve the amendment it would be one of a long list of hundreds of amendments that have been added to the document over its more than 100 years of existence.

“The racist language that continues to exist in our current state constitution damages our reputation, can be used against us by competing states when recruiting economic development projects, and, quite frankly, needs to go,” Orr said in the press release. “To this day, many of those outside the state continue to define Alabama with misconceptions based upon our past, and I hope that removing this language from our governing document will help all of us begin to focus eyes on the modern Alabama of today and the vibrant future that awaits us.”

As an example of the provisions Orr's bill would remove, he cited Section 256 of the 1901 Constitution, which states:

“Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of another race.”

Orr also points to constitutional references to Alabama’s “poll tax,” which was used to disenfranchise African-Americans before the passage of the 1965 Federal Voting Rights Act and another example of what his amendment would remove from the constitution.

Organizations such as Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform have advocated for a complete do-over by constitutional convention to draft a new document for at least a decade, but have had little success in getting enough members of the Alabama Legislature to support it.

Orr said in the press release he understands that only a total constitutional rewrite would completely remove the language. But he went on to say that he believes there is little public support for such movement, and he has deep personal reservations about overhauling the entire manuscript.

"Needed constitutional protections, such as prohibitions on raising most taxes without a vote of the people and strict anti-gambling provisions, could be lost if a rewrite convention was convened," said the two-term lawmaker.

He said an amendment is the best avenue to address the needed corrections.

“Critics of this amendment will say that federal court rulings and other measures have rendered this racist language moot, but if that is the case, what is the harm in taking a proactive step and letting the nation know that the Alabama of 2011 refutes these beliefs,” Orr said. “Because job creation is our top priority, it is time to let everyone across the country know that the racist stereotype of Alabama is gone for good, and we are open for business and development.”

-- Markeshia Ricks


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Location: Montgomery, AL, United States

South Union Street is the blog of Montgomery Advertiser political reporters Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen. Always check here for the latest on the Legislature, elections and other activities and players in Alabama.

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