Amendment 4 Does not Fix Racist Constitution

Tuscaloosa News does not seem to like my letters.  None of the letters I have written in the past 3 years have been published.  The newspaper seems more interested in publishing such pieces as “President is inviting the wrath of God”  which reduces this column to an entertainment section equivalent to the National Enquirer than serious debate.  After a week of waiting for a response or for publication, I am posting my letter in response to their editorial.

To the Editor:
The recent editorial supporting Amendment 4 (October 18) to the state constitution  does not seem to understand how racism works. Amendment 4 claims it will remove racist language from our constitution which was established in 1901 with the sole purpose of creating a White Supremacist State. Removing racist language is only a cosmetic touch as it does not and cannot fix the institutionalized racism that is still embedded in the constitution. The paragraphs that will not be removed by this amendment because they are not explicit in their racism are still racist. This particular section was written in the 1950’s when it was believed by the White majority that Blacks were not educable but merely trainable and that language remains. These terms, education and training refer to the alleged abilities that Whites versus Blacks had. The belief was Whites could be educated while Blacks could only be trained. The only way to fix our 1901 constitution is not by deleting phrases but by a complete rewriting of the constitution. Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Henry Mabry is right when he states Amendment 4 removes the guaranteed right to an education. That is how institutionalized racism works. It is so embedded into our state constitution that to remove racist language actually restores racist policies. Cosmetic fixes are not enough, we need a new state constitution if we are indeed serious about undoing our racist heritage.
Fred L Hammond
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Postscript:  Since writing this letter, there have been  several conversations as to what the motivations or reasons are behind this amendment.  The author of the amendment claims it is purely to remove the stain of racism from the constitution.  Perhaps. One can never fully know what those intentions might be.

What is clear is this.  While removing racist language seems a laudable act;  this amendment REENACTS a provision that had previously been held unconstitutional that for racist reasons eliminated a right to public education. When actions to remove language is being undertaken within a document created specifically to create a white supremacist state then the whole constitution needs to be looked at to see where else racism is imbedded.  There are systemic aspects of racism  interwoven in the document that must be examined and rooted out.  For example; racism is also in the constitutional policies guiding the  actions of the governing body.  Removing racism demands not just a cosmetic touch but a full reworking from scratch in order to remove all forms of racial oppression.

Institutionalized Racism

Institutionalized Racism

by Rev. Fred L Hammond

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

12 December 2010 ©

Reading: “In a rational, logical world,”  From the The Anniston Star Editorial Board November 5 2010

In a rational, logical world, Anniston would be able to resume paying for college scholarships for graduates of the city’s public high school.

It’s a case of local people having a say in what their city does — or should do, at least. In Tuesday’s election, Anniston residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of using city money to send eligible Anniston teens to college. The tally wasn’t close, 63.6 percent to 36.4 percent.

But this isn’t a rational, logical world.

Thanks to the state’s archaic 1901 Constitution, voters in Anniston and Calhoun County both had to approve the local amendment, even though people who don’t live in Anniston have no dog in the fight over how Anniston’s City Council writes the city’s checks.

Anniston residents passed the amendment.

Calhoun County residents didn’t.

Thus, Anniston can’t resume its worthwhile college scholarship program because state law foolishly requires that such amendments be passed both by the city and the county — even though only Anniston money would have gone to the scholarships. It’s an Anniston deal, for Anniston students, and people who don’t live in Anniston barred its rebirth.

Thanks a lot, 1901 Constitution.

Institutionalized Racism

The tale of Anniston not getting to decide what to do with Anniston money is not a unique tale in Alabama.  It isn’t just some quirky archaic law left over from a bygone era that no one pays attention to anymore like it being illegal in the State of Alabama to impersonate Clergy[1].  By the way, impersonating clergy comes with a very hefty penalty, $500 fine and/or up to one year in the county jail.  I know you all are just itching to break that law so I am keeping my eyes on you.   The law that kept Anniston, a community that demographically is about 50% black is codified in our constitution so that Calhoun County, which is 77% white can keep them in check.

No one ever states it quite like that but that is how the Alabama constitution is written and for that purpose.  In the convention hearings of 1901, there was expressed fear of “negro domination” and the response was to “establish White Supremacy in this state[2]” of Alabama.  The state legislature was to hold the power over local communities to prevent them from directing their own local destiny. This was done in two ways. The entire state had to vote on an issue occurring in a county of the state or the county had to vote on an issue occurring in one of its municipalities, even though the rest of the state or the rest of the county could care less about a new sewage treatment plant being built that would be paid for by the residents of the specific community.  The Alabama constitution is a prime example of what institutionalized racism looks like in America.

Someone could say, but Fred, all those laws in the constitution that were directed against blacks were made null and void by the federal civil rights act in 1964.  In fact, this is the rebuttal by “Citizens Against Constitutional Reform” to the “Alabama Citizens for Constitution Reform’s” claim that the 1901 Constitutional Convention “disenfranchised poor whites and Blacks in that memorable document.”   The Citizens Against Constitutional Reform state, “No one in Alabama is disenfranchised from full participation in today’s society or prosperity[3].”   Not true. In fact there is still on the books a section of the constitution that legalizes segregation of schools. While Brown v. the Board of Education made the law unconstitutional, it still remains active on the books. The offending words that are still active in the constitution are “Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.[4]

An amendment to repeal this amendment of racial segregation failed.  “Nearly all organizations opposing the repeal of the segregation measure pointed to a provision stating that the state did not provide a right to a state financed education. Groups opposing the repeal of this amendment claimed that repeal would lead to court decisions requiring the state to raise taxes.[5]

This defeat happened, not in 1954 when Brown v Board of Education decision was made, not in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed but in 2004.  Fifty years after the ruling that unequivocally determined that separate but equal was only separate and certainly not equal. This repeal was defeated because there was a fear of taxation, not because people didn’t abhor segregation, not because they didn’t see this section of the constitution as wrong but because they feared an increase in taxation.  I’ll come back to taxation and how it plays its part in racism later.

The constitution of 1901 was written with the sole purpose of disenfranchising the Blacks. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s there was a lot of voting fraud happening.  People would appear to have voted who didn’t show up to vote. Ballots would be stuffed. So when the vote came regarding the question to hold a constitutional convention and to the vote to ratify the new constitution, a curious thing happened according to the press.

The majority of the state of Alabama, where the majority of white voters lived, the question to ratify the constitution was defeated, 76K to 72K against.  But in the region where the majority of Black voters lived in Alabama, ironically known as the Black belt for its black top soil, Blacks apparently, or so we have been told, voted for the new constitution knowing that the outcome of this new constitution would disenfranchise them.  In Hale, Dade, and Wilcox Counties the vote was 18,000 for ratification and 500 against.  The White population in these three counties alone was only 5600 and the Black population was 12,400.  Anyone doing the math on this?  It was the vote in the Black Belt that swung the majority of votes to ratify a new constitution to create a white supremacist state.

The headlines of the day read, “Negroes not interested; in many places voted the Democratic Ticket.[6]”  With widespread stealing of the votes as the practice of the day, it is most likely that these votes were stolen.  Even in the records of the convention the stealing of votes was publicly acknowledged.  “But if we would have white supremacy, we must establish it by law–not by force or fraud. If you teach your boy that it is right to buy a vote, it is an easy step for him to learn to use money to bribe or corrupt officials or trustees of any class. If you teach your boy that it is right to steal votes, it is an easy step for him to believe that it is right to steal whatever he may need or greatly desire.[7]

Now again, the right to vote was restored with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The poll tax and the literacy requirements to vote were struck from the state constitution. Therefore, the constitution is no longer a racist document, right?  Wrong.

This is the thing with institutionalization of any premise.  Once something is institutionalized it is in the fabric of how we do things to the point of not recognizing why we are doing them or who they may be affecting and hurting.  It simply is so.  For example, on a much smaller scale, when I asked my mother why she scraped the pork chops before cooking them, she replied because her mother did it.  Why did Grandma do it, because great grandma did it.  Why did Great grandma do it; because when she got the pork chops from the butcher they often had bone chips in the meat so she was scraping them out.  The behavior of scraping the pork chops was institutionalized into how my family prepared pork chops.  Now there is no harm in this small illustration of institutionalizing behavior.

But let me ask you why do we have the residents of this state vote on a matter that only pertains to one small locale?  And why is it important for that matter to become an amendment to the constitution?  The answer to both of these questions is because at one point in time, these actions maintained white supremacy rule.  To have the white majority of the state vote on whether a predominantly black community can offer educational scholarships becomes a very important question for the state seeking to maintain white supremacy.  Education presented a risk to the White majority.  And it still does today in Anniston, AL where the White Calhoun County voted no to Anniston offering scholarships to their almost 50% black, 50% white student population.   But today, we have no reason to continue this practice that was institutionalized over 100 years ago.

The definition of institutionalized racism is patterns in societal structures, such as those found within governmental institutions that result in imposing oppressive or negative conditions on identifiable groups of people on the basis of race or ethnicity[8].  So while the laws that blatantly oppress people of color in the constitution have for the most part been removed, the very structure of the constitution remains to uphold institutionalized racism.

The Anniston example given earlier is an example of this institutionalized racism.  It is the perhaps the hardest to eradicate because the patterns have become so common place, so everyday, that people do not see its impact racially.  While the vote in Calhoun County to deny Anniston the right to spend their money as they see fit might be argued as not being racist, but when looking at who is going to be disproportionately impacted by not having Anniston scholarship money available to them, it is people of color.

The process from conception to amendment to ratification vote by the people in the state can take several years because the bill can get bogged down in committee or not get passed in the house and the senate within the given session.  So even though the local government has passed this ordinance or resolution they are barred from implementing it because the state was not able to get the amendment ready for the ballot.  The wheels turn ever so slowly when seeking to control the destiny of other people deemed unable to determine their fate.

These structures were put into place to maintain white supremacy of Alabama. But it isn’t only this structure; the constitution also has set the tax codes as a means to maintain white supremacy of the wealthy.  Constitutions generally should not be setting the tax code.  Constitutions should authorize the state legislature to levy taxes but not be the holder of the tax code.  However, Alabama was reacting to re-constructionists and the carpetbagger’s who sought their fortune and built railroads and public schools through hefty property taxes. So in the constitution of 1901, income and property taxes were given set limits which resulted in sales taxes as being the only other source of revenue that could be levied with less restriction.  Alabama’s sales tax codes are the most regressive in the nation because they adversely affect the poorest of the poor while benefiting the wealthiest of citizens and special interest groups.

Alabama further altered the way property taxes are applied allowing for exemption of taxes to special interest groups who can assert that their property has an agricultural use. The loss in revenue to the state through these special interest group exemptions is estimated to be $40 million annually[9].  This is money that would have been used to fund rural public schools in the state making them among the poorest in their ability to offer a quality education.  The most affected by this institutionalized structure are the poor in the state increasing the chances for their remaining oppressed.

There are also schools in the state that use sales taxes to fund their services.  The problem is sales taxes are dependent on economy ebbs and flows more so than the other two.  When the state is in a recession, like it has been, people tend to purchase less and therefore sales tax revenue drops.

It is hard to fathom people understanding that their increased sales tax on the purchase of Doritos is going to keep little Johnnie and Mary in school.  Whereas it is easier for people to understand that their local property tax will ensure their children receiving a quality education.  But who are the people who pay the most in sales taxes?  By percentage it is people who are poor pay more of a percentage of their income on sales tax than people who are wealthy.  The wealthy tend to spend their money on services which are not taxable.

There is a need to rewrite the constitution so that 1) local governments have a greater ability to serve the needs of their community and 2) so that the tax code can be adjusted to be equitable to the abilities of its citizens.  For example tax codes that offer sizable exemptions to the paper mills vast forests from property taxes increases the burden on the rural residents of those counties to raise the needed funds to support the education of their children.

What can we do?  Our sister congregation in Birmingham has passed a resolution that will be sent to legislators in the state endorsing the idea of constitution reform.  We can write and pass a similar resolution to join with theirs.  We can write our state representatives and state senators and tell them that constitution reform is not just about home rule and taxes but also undoing the structures that maintain the institutional racism embedded in the current document. It will reduce the cost of government by having local resolutions, local ordinances, local revenues kept to the local level.  Reform will free up those resources so that our state reps can deal with state issues like job creation, transportation infrastructure, and improving our public education.

We can help create a better Alabama where all people benefit from the resources that are available and lifted up to reach their full potential as citizens.  So may it be.


[1] Acts 1965, 1st Ex. Sess., No. 273, p. 381; Code 1975, §13-4-99

[5] Ibid.

[6] as found in the video, It’s a Thick Book  http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4332178818631634021#

[8] Based on definition offered by About.com for institutional racism

Alabama Constitution Reform

Alabama’s Constitution is a document that is over 100 years old. While the most blatant racist articles in this constitution have been struck down by the US Supreme Court, it is still an institutionalized white supremacist document with its fist-ed control over minority-majority counties and cities.  The attempts in the past for constitution reform have been blocked repeatedly by special interest groups and the wealthy who enjoy the power this constitution privileges them.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham passed  a resolution on September 16, 2010 declaring that congregation’s intention to seek constitution reform.   Having this unjust document be overhauled and modernized to meet the needs of the 21st century would be continuing towards the fulfillment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of equality and justice for all.  I encourage other Alabama congregations, Unitarian Universalist and others,  to pass their own resolutions urging for constitution reform and then to send these resolutions to their state representatives, state senators, and to Governor Bentley.   Here is the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham’s resolution on Constitution reform.

Resolution on Constitutional Reform, Endorsed by the UUCB Board

September 16, 2010

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

Whereas, as Unitarian Universalists, we envision a more caring, just, productive, and prosperous Alabama, governed under a new constitution that promotes a better life for all Alabamians, and

Whereas, the chief agenda item of the Alabama State Constitutional Convention of 1901, as articulated by John. B. Knox, in his presidential address to the convention, was, quote: “And what is it that we want to do? Why it is within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this state…But if we would have white supremacy, we must establish it by law—not by force or fraud.  These provisions are justified in law and in morals, because the negro is not discriminated against on account of his race, but on account of his intellectual and moral condition.  There is in the white man an inherited capacity for government, which is wholly wanting in the negro.” (Official Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Alabama, May 21, 1901 to September 3, 1901, 1:538-42), and

Whereas, the 1901 constitution’s provisions to enshrine Alabama’s large rural land-owners and large sector operating in Alabama, and

Whereas, Alabama’s constitution is the oldest, longest, and most complex in the nation, with 827 amendments (compared to the national average of 116), with more amendments pending each year, as Alabama’s governance continues to become more complex, and

Whereas, Alabama’s state government is so restricted it cannot meet the needs of modern society, as shown by studies published jointly in 1999 and 2001 by Governing magazine and the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, ranking Alabama’s governmental performance last among the 50 states, and

Whereas, Alabama’s constitution demonstrates profound distrust of democracy and self-reliance, failing to enable counties to plan for their own economic development and growth, imposing severe restrictions on municipal home rule, disallowing use of the gas tax to support public transit, and causing half the legislative agenda to be focused on issues of strictly local interest, so that more than 70 percent of our constitutional amendments apply to a single city or county, and

Whereas, Alabama’s constitution enshrines an unfair and ineffective tax system, ranking it among the bottom three states in its unfairness to our poorest citizens (Governing magazine, Feb. 2003), forcing local governments and school boards to rely on fickle and regressive sales taxes because of constitutional restrictions on property and income taxes, and requiring nearly 90 percent of state funds to be earmarked for specific uses (higher than any other state), thereby destroying fiscal flexibility, and

Whereas, oligarchical control continues to prevail not only in Alabama’s government but also through its corporatist interlinkages with the business sector, resulting in a prime regional location for anti-union corporations, very poor educational resources, increasingly changing and dangerous climatic conditions, a deeply polluted environment, and large numbers of people being driven from the state in search of better economic opportunity and more friendly places, and

Whereas, a modern corporations in the position of oligarchical white supremacy over all aspects of governance are well documented by Wayne Flynt, Bailey Thomson, Harvey H. Jackson III, and in Melanie Jeffcoat’s film for the ACCR, entitled, Open Secret, which reenacts portions of the 1901 constitutional convention, and

Whereas, redrafting of the Alabama constitution must begin with frank recognition of the oligarchical and racist provisions of the 1901 document, in order to support mutual trust and the successful collaboration of all constitutional convention delegates in reformulating those provisions, and

Whereas, a reformed Constitution based on democracy is necessary for the proper discharge of governmental responsibilities, and for the assurance of broad social benefit generated by the business constitution for Alabama would, by contrast, establish broad principles for governmental operations without imposing restrictions on good lawmaking, recognize that local and metropolitan problems need to be solved at home and not in Montgomery, organize government into efficient branches, protect citizens rights, authorize appropriate types of taxation rather than imposing a state-wide tax code (extending to the level of motor vehicle assessments), encourage the people’s aspirations for democratic instead of oligarchical control of government and the business sector,  encourage people to become well-educated, collaborative, and productive citizens, and

Whereas, past attempts at constitutional reform in Alabama have been blocked by organized special interests whose unique privileges, wealth, and political power corrupt both the democratic exercise of governmental responsibilities and the conduct of business in Alabama, and

Whereas, there is an Alabama-wide grassroots movement calling for a constitutional convention of democratically elected citizen delegates from each House legislative district, as evidenced by newspaper editorials and a statewide petition drive, signed by approximately 75,000 citizens throughout the state of Alabama, calling for such a Constitutional Convention, and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham, through its ordained and lay leaders, members, and friends, will actively seek, educate, support, and advocate on behalf of a Citizen’s Constitutional Convention for the purpose of writing Alabama’s 7th Constitution, and

BE IT RESOLVED, IN ADDITION, that the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham will seek to enroll the other Unitarian Universalist Churches throughout the state of Alabama in support of this resolution, or similar resolutions, according to their individual preferences, and

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED, that the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham strongly urges action by the members of the State Legislature, the Governor, and other elected officials of the State of Alabama to support and pass the enabling legislation, which will be introduced in the House and Senate in the 2011 session, that will allow the people of Alabama to vote on whether they desire a Citizen’s Constitutional Convention to be called.

Published in: on November 17, 2010 at 11:33 am  Comments Off on Alabama Constitution Reform  
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Alabama’s constitution: a reform long overdue

Alabama’s state constitution has not been seriously reviewed since it was implemented in 1901.   Yes, that’s right 1901.  Now changing constitutions are not something that one should enter into lightly.  Yet, there comes a time when constitutions no longer serve the best interests of the people.  However, this constitution was never written to serve the best interests of the people of Alabama only a few select white people of Alabama.  So the constitution was flawed from day one.

John Knox president of the 1901  constitution convention stated in the record it was the intention of the convention to “establish white supremacy in this state.”  This constitution deliberately institutionalized racism.   And the constitution as written has ensured that people of color be cast down by deliberate oppression. 

One of the ways this is done is by the  constitution keeping all of the decision making out of local control.  No municipality, no county can decide for itself zoning issues or even mundane decisions like rodent control or burying dead farm animals unless so amended in the constitution.   According to Alabama Citizens  for Constitutional Reform, 50% of state legislators time is spent debating local issues that should be decided by the people affected by these issues.  70% of all amendments  made to the constitution apply to a single municipality.  This makes the state constitution the longest on record.   It also limits the autonomy of municipalities to make decisions and the ability to make said decisions are unequal per amendments to the constitution. 

The constitution has locked in unfair tax codes penalizing the poor to pay a disproportionate amount of income and sales tax.   The wealthiest in the state pay about 4%  while the poorest pay 11% and begin paying income tax after $12K.  Even Mississippi, which Alabama is oft to cry “Thank God for Mississippi” when comparing its ratings in the nation, has a starting thresh hold of $19K  for a family to begin paying state income tax.

The money raised in Alabama has little flexibility as to how it can be spent.  According to the Alabama Citizens for Constitution reform, most states earmark only 22% of their budget allowing the governor and finance officers to develop a budget allocating funds to the areas of greatest need.  Alabama constitution requires that 90% of the budget be earmarked limiting that flexibility and causing huge problems.  The education budget has been pro-rated eight times in the past 17 years.   Pro-ration is when the budget which must be balanced is reduced by the percentage of the deficit.  Meaning that if the deficit is 10% then the education budget must be pro-rated back 10% as well. 

It is due time that Alabama streamlines the 799 amendment constitution by surrendering democratic control to the municipalities and counties to allow them to determine what to do with their dead farm animals and where to build their firehouses.  State legislators have larger and more important issues to deal with than waste their time and our money on such localized problems.   This constitution is the epitome of micro-management gone wild.

There are now two bills in the legislature. But they are facing a tough fight.  HJR 91 was briefly discussed on May 6, 2009 but was tabled to some undetermined time.  It is important that our state representatives hear from us to not allow this racist and archaic and convoluted constitution to continue to guide us in the muck  of red tape.   We deserve better treatment and respect from our state government than this.  Blessings,

Published in: on May 21, 2009 at 12:44 pm  Comments Off on Alabama’s constitution: a reform long overdue  
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