Jim Carnes: Why Alabama Arise supports Amendment 4

Lynching memorial 2
Part of a statue depicting chained people is on display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. [Photo Credit: AP Photo | Brynn Anderson]

It’s past time for Alabama to tear down the policy legacies of slavery and segregation. And Alabamians can take an important step in that direction this fall by voting yes on Amendment 4.

Alabama Arise favors an overhaul of the racist 1901 constitution, so adding new amendments is not something we take lightly. But Amendment 4 would improve the constitution by authorizing the Legislature to “recompile,” or clean up and reorganize, the document in certain limited ways during the 2022 regular session.

Most importantly, Amendment 4 would allow the Legislature to remove racist language from the constitution. Examples of these provisions include references to separate schools for Black and white children and the prohibition of interracial marriages. This change would address one of the constitution’s original sins: its authors’ explicit intent to establish white supremacy in Alabama.

Amendment 4 would make other structural changes to the constitution as well. It would remove language that is repetitive or no longer applies. It would consolidate amendments related to economic development. And it would group local amendments by the county to which they apply.

How Amendment 4 differs from previous efforts

Two other efforts to modernize the constitution and remove racist language have lost statewide votes in recent years. In 2004, voters rejected a proposed amendment that also would have removed language saying Alabama children had no right to a publicly funded education. Some conservatives feared that change could force lawmakers to increase taxes and boost public school funding.

In 2012, Alabamians voted against another proposed amendment that many Black lawmakers opposed. The legislators cited concerns that it could undermine education funding and would not remove all racist language from the constitution.

This year’s amendment would allow the Legislature to identify racist language for removal. Voters still would have the final say on whether to approve the new revision of the constitution. Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, sponsored the amendment, which the Legislature approved unanimously in 2019 for a public vote this year. Coleman worked as an Arise policy analyst before she was elected to the House.

Republished with permission of Alabama Rise. You can read more details in the full blog post here

Jim Carnes is Arise’s policy director. He grew up in Columbus, Miss., and graduated from the University of North Carolina. He worked as the communications director before becoming policy director in 2013.