Wed, Dec 01, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Alabama clings to legacy of racism

ONGOING BIGOTRY In a blow for enlightenment, the US state with a racist history voted to keep `separate schools for white and colored children' as part of its Constitution


During his inaugural address in 1963, Alabama governor George Wallace took to the steps of the state capitol and made a promise. Standing on the spot where Jefferson Davis had declared an independent southern confederacy just over 100 years before, he pledged: "In the name of the greatest people that ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny and I say: Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

On Monday it looked as if he might get his wish, after a referendum in the state looked likely to keep segregation-era wording, requiring separate schools for "white and colored children" in its Constitution as well as references to the poll taxes once imposed to disenfranchise blacks.

A narrow margin of 1,850 votes out of 1.38 million, or 0.13 percent, in a referendum on Nov. 2, meant the state was obliged to hold a recount, which took place on Monday. But with no accusations of electoral fraud or any other irregularities, nobody Monday night expected the result to change.

The ballot initiative sought to remove the most objectionable elements of the state's Constitution which remain, even though they have been overridden by more recent civil rights legislation. They include passages such as:

"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."

And: "To avoid confusion and disorder and to promote effective and economical planning for education, the legislature may authorize the parents or guardians of minors, who desire that such minors shall attend schools provided for their own race."

Almost 50 years since Rosa Parks was ejected from a bus in the shadow of the governor's mansion because she would not move to the back, most people thought the amendment to remove the segregation clause would pass fairly easily.

"The language in the Constitution was already unconstitutional and this would have brought Alabama up to date," said Bryan Fair, a law professor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. "So it was surprising that something so clear and symbolic would be even close."

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