When voters in Alabama took to the polls in the 3 November election, they voted to pass Amendment Four. This motion gives the State Legislature the ability to amend the State Constitution and in turn, remove racist provisions condemning interracial marriages and insisting on school segregation.
Segregation became illegal in Alabama in the 1950s, and hence by law racist sections of the State Constitution have been repealed. Yet, despite this, racist language rooted in the state’s past still prevails within its official document. Specifically, under Section 102 interracial marriages are condemned, and under Section 256 the Legislature is directed to set up segregated schools.
Alabama is renowned for having the longest State Constitution in the US, and the document has been amended around 800 times since its 1901 enactment. Despite many modifications, bills that have sought to eliminate aforementioned racist sections in the past have tended to fail by extremely narrow margins, for example, a 2004 failure on the grounds that right-wing critics feared it would lead to increased school taxation.
However, when given the opportunity to make change at the recent election, this time around the electorate in Alabama finally decided that enough was enough, with almost 67% of voters in favour of the motion.
A desire to eradicate systematic racism that prevails in the States’ Constitution has become increasingly evident through this vote, and its timing can be considered to align itself with the reaction and response to the police killing of George Floyd in May of this year.
This tragedy in Minneapolis further exposed the systematic racism that has long plagued the USA, and ignited protests that advanced the fight against racism across the world. The sheer number of protestors fighting against this injustice, alongside Alabama’s historical vote to amend their constitution in the wake of it, is suggestive that an increasing number of Americans are becoming more willing than ever to tackle and eliminate the long withstanding systematic racism in their country.
Representative Merika Coleman spearheaded this bipartisan bill seeking to amend the constitution, introducing it as House Bill 328 back in April 2019. She claimed that if passed, it would “send a message to the nation that we are no longer the Alabama of 1901”.
The bill will notably give state legislators the means to be able to draft a rearranged version of the original document, and amendments made will then have to be authorised by the State Legislature during the 2022 state legislative session, modifying the Alabama Constitution and providing for its ratification.
Alabama has subsequently joined the likes of Utah, Rhode Island, and Nebraska in voting to remove language rooted in their segregated pasts, and whilst such amendments by no means go far enough to eradicate systematic racism, they are certainly a small but effective step in the right direction. This is an especially notable development in consideration of the fact Alabama is majority white and a Republican stronghold.
Still, there is a very long way to go, with this vote only the beginning of what has to be a dramatic upheaval of the current system in Alabama and beyond.