Alabama voters have approved an amendment that would begin the process of deleting racist language from the state’s 119-year-old constitution, which was approved to entrench white supremacy as state law during the Jim Crow era.
Voters in the majority white, conservative state rejected similar proposals twice since 2000, but the measure passed easily in balloting Tuesday.
Glenn Crowell, a retired restaurateur and registered Republican who is Black, said he voted to strip away the old phrasing, which the amendment’s sponsors viewed as an embarrassment and potential roadblock to economic development.
“I just want to get rid of that language. It just doesn’t make any sense nowadays,” said Crowell, 63, of Montgomery.
Courts have long since struck down the legalized segregation that was enshrined in the 1901 Alabama Constitution, but language banning mixed-race marriage, allowing poll taxes and mandating school segregation remains.
With more than 1.7 million votes cast, the amendment passed with 67% support. That means more than 585,000 people voted against it. The ballot didn’t mention race, and some voters might not have even known what the amendment involved.
Gov. Kay Ivey didn’t take an official position on any of six amendments that were on the ballot, including the anti-racism measure.
Passage eased the fears of supporters who worried that conservative backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement could hurt the proposal, which qualified for the ballot with bipartisan legislative support months before nationwide demonstrations erupted in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
Called Amendment 4, the proposal allows state officials to recompile the constitution without the racist language. Partly because even local issues require constitutional changes, the document already has been amended 948 times and is considered the nation’s longest constitution.
Statehouse workers will create a draft to excise offensive wording, although sponsors said it was unclear exactly how much might be removed. Legislators then will consider the updated document in 2022, and voters would have to approve the changes again before they take effect.
Aside from cutting racist phrasing, the amendment also allows the Legislature to remove repeated language and combine sections related to economic development or specific counties.