Amendment 4 and our racist past

Amendment 4 forces us, as citizens of Alabama, to confront our racist history.
The amendment, which will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, removes some of the racial language from the Constitution. It does so by reauthorizing the first two paragraphs of a section of Amendment 111 — which do not explicitly mention race — and omitting the third paragraph. The omitted paragraph authorizes parents to send their children to “schools provided for their own race.”
All of Amendment 111, including the two paragraphs reauthorized by Amendment 4, came directly from the 1954 Report of the Alabama Interim Legislative Committee on Segregation in the Public Schools, which focused exclusively on how to avoid the school desegregation mandated that year by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.
In 1954, the state constitution required the Legislature to “maintain a liberal system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of the children thereof.”
The committee expressed hope that Brown would not be enforced, but concluded the state needed the flexibility to shut down its public school system in the event desegregation was forced upon it. The committee also proposed a change in the Constitution that allowed the Legislature to provide direct funding to segregated private schools or tuition vouchers to parents, which they could use to attend segregated private schools.
Both of these recommendations made it into the Constitution in 1956. Both are included in Amendment 4, except for the references to race.
The findings and conclusions of the committee provide a bleak reminder of our recent history. Some excerpts:
“The overwhelming majority of white citizens of Alabama are unalterably opposed to the idea of permitting the use of the public school system to coerce racial integration. The Committee believes that the vast majority of Negro citizens of the State are instinctively and genuinely opposed to the idea of compulsory integration and its effect upon the basic harmony between the white and negro people of Alabama. …
“Although the entire social order would suffer, the negro people would be by far the greater sufferers. … White employers would be strongly induced to withhold employment from negro parents who would take advantage of the intended compulsion …
“There are profound psychological and cultural differences, including differences in aptitudes, between the white and negro races in Alabama …
“Negroes in Alabama are accustomed to living separately, which is the normal environment. … [T]he negro children would be harmed and warped by belligerent resentment of their forced acceptance, by innumerable daily incidents emphasizing it, and by the sharp disclosure of a generally lower scholastic aptitude.”
“The exodus from integrated schools by the white people, who pay by far the greater part of the taxes which maintain the schools, would result in widespread reluctance or refusal to continue that contribution. It is certain that the public in most if not all districts, would refuse to vote the necessary taxes to sustain a program of compulsory education. …
“Separation of the races at the social and marriage level is not merely an empty tradition or a prejudice. It is a necessity in the preservation of civil order and good will, and it is part of the fundamental fabric of our society. …
“Rather than allow any such tragic distortion of the function of public education, that function should be abandoned to the extent necessary to protect it in any locality. …
“The power should be delegated by the legislature to the local school authorities as a final resort to discontinue public schools and, instead, grant public aid, such as tuition and transportation, directly to the pupils, white and negro, and enable them to attend private schools where, of course, there would be no compulsory commingling.
“(School officials should have) the power to refuse admission to individuals or groups whose deficiencies in scholastic aptitude would compel undue lowering of school standards …
“Assuming as a matter of course that all State school authorities recognize their grave and current responsibility to avoid public disorder and possible tragedy … and that they will see to it that no mixing of the races is permitted, and that all efforts to force that result are firmly dealt with, specific legislation may properly await further study … (until) we are advised as to the extent to which trouble makers in Alabama propose to foment litigation and stir up a hostility between the races which does not now exist.”
“In conclusion, we express our conviction that the public support and furtherance of education can and should be maintained in a manner acceptable to the vast majority of citizens who, in the end, make it possible; and it can be maintained without permitting the function of education of children in Alabama to be converted into a mechanism for compulsory and violent social reform.”
This is not just our past, it is our present. The committee’s recommendations were adopted, almost word for word, in Amendment 111 of the Constitution. Amendment 111 remains a part of Alabama’s constitution, and most of it would survive the passage of Amendment 4.


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Filed under Alabama politics, education, Race, States' rights

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