Alabama voters approve an amendment to remove racist language from state constitution

Brian Lyman

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama voters Tuesday approved a constitutional amendment that could lead to the removal of racist language from the state Constitution.

As of 8:48 a.m. Wednesday, Amendment 4 had 1,169,206 yes votes (67%) in incomplete, unofficial returns. About 585,384 Alabamians (33%) voted against the measure, a symbolic measure that proponents said would allow the state to show the world that it was trying to move beyond the sins of its past.  

The amendment will let the Legislative Reference Service (LRS) start a recompilation of the Alabama Constitution, which will reorganize amendments to reflect the county they affect and consolidate scattered economic development language.

The main purpose of the measure is purging the state’s governing document of racist language, reflecting its undemocratic origins. The 1901 Constitution was framed to disenfranchise Blacks and poor whites, and includes language that bans interracial marriage and requires public schools to be segregated.

Subsequent amendments and federal court decisions have nullified those sections. But getting the actual language out of the document has proven difficult, thanks to Amendment 111, passed in 1956, which said that the state did not recognize “any right to education or training at public expense.”

A 2004 proposal to remove the 1901 and 1956 language failed by the narrowest of margins after opponents claimed that dropping Amendment 111 could lead to tax increases. In 2012, a proposal to remove the 1901 language — but not Amendment 111 — drew opposition from Black legislators and the Alabama Education Association, who said leaving the amendment in could prevent future attempts to restore funding to schools. Almost 61% of voters voted no.

Amendment 4 does not address Amendment 111, and gathered little organization opposition. It will allow LRS to draft a constitutional amendment that would make the changes. The amendment would need approval from the Legislature in the 2021 or 2022 regular session. If legislators approve it, the amendment would go to voters in the 2022 general election.