• Tue. Oct 26th, 2021

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Alabama Begins Removing Racist Language From Its Constitution

Last summer, she recalled, just when many residents were participating in ceremonies honoring the life of the civil rights leader John Lewis, one of her State House colleagues participated in a celebration of the birthday of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

“That story made the national news,” she said. “All of the negative images that come from here make the news.”

Ms. Coleman wants the reputation of Alabama as intolerant and racist to change. “Collectively, we are not those folks that were celebrating the birthday of the K.K.K.,” she said. “That’s not who we are.”

She also worries about the impact of the current Constitution’s effect on schoolchildren.

“If your image, based on what we’re talking specifically about the Constitution, is that you are not worthy enough to vote, you are not worthy enough to marry who you love, you are not worthy enough to have the best education possible, what does that say about who you are?” she asked. “And what about the superiority complex that it creates in non-people of color?”

The project, if successful, will also allow the state to streamline the entire document — the longest state Constitution in the country — making it easier to navigate and understand and removing other sorts of outdated provisions.

Representative Coleman, who sponsored the constitutional amendment that set the redrafting in motion and now chairs the committee considering changes to the charter, also sees the removal of racist language as an entry point to conversations about current-day policies that disproportionately affect Black residents. She points to a passage on “involuntary servitude,” which is illegal except in the case of people convicted of crimes. The practice, she said, has disproportionately affected Black Americans, who for decades have been sentenced to toil on prison farms and to do other forms of prison labor.

“We’re having real-deal conversations where people may not have been having those conversations before, conversations we should have had a long time ago,” Ms. Coleman said.