The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

October 27, 2012

Alabama constitution: Vote looms on amending history

— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Segregation ended decades ago in Alabama, swept away by the civil rights marchers who faced down police dogs and fire hoses in the early '60s. But segregation is still mandated by the state's constitution, and voters on Nov. 6 will get only their second chance in years to eliminate an anachronism that still exists on paper.

Election Day in this Deep South state could be the day Alabama amends history.

Amendment 4 — the proposal to delete the constitution's archaic language affirming segregation — is tucked amid routine issues of sewers, bonds and city boundaries on a crowded Election Day ballot. It's a striking call to see if Alabama will repeat what it did in 2004, when the state narrowly voted to keep the outdated and racially controversial language, bringing national ridicule upon the state.

The second time won't be any easier than the first because Alabama's two largest black political groups are urging a "no" vote. They say the proposed changes would wipe out some racially charged language, but would retain segregation-era language saying there is no constitutional right to a public education in Alabama. And they've been joined by the state's main teachers' group in refusing to go along.

Never mind the supporters who say it's time to shed the last reminders of an era of discrimination and project a more welcoming image of a modern state eager to draw companies and jobs to Alabama.

Alabamians haven't been reluctant to amend the 111-year-old constitution in the past. In fact, they've approved more than 800 amendments in their history, making theirs the nation's longest state constitution. It is now four times longer than the average constitution and, come Nov. 6, could get 30 more amendments added to its heft.

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