Columns » John Brummett

Jim Crow rides crimson tide


No wonder the team calls itself the “crimson” tide. Alabama surely must be the reddest state of all. I refer to the political and cultural identity of a state as defined by its vote in the presidential race. Red means pro-Bush. More to the point, and to mince no words, red means claiming superior moral values and having that provincial declaration rendered hollow by behavior. You’re not going to believe what else ’Bama did Nov. 2 while giving 63 percent of its vote and probably eight of 10 white votes to George W. Bush. Perhaps you’re wondering why I invoke race. It’s because of what you’re not going to believe. Jim Crow won an election in Alabama on Nov. 2, the recent one, a 21st century one. Subject to an automatic recount Nov. 29 because of the closeness, Alabamians voted not to repeal sections of a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1956 to mandate racially segregated schools. Like other Southern red states including Arkansas, Ala-bama chose in the overtly racist 1950s to pass a constitutional amendment pre-suming to interpose state constitutional law decreeing segregation. The foolhardy notion was to fend off federal court rulings requiring racial integration of schools. It was foolhardy because states can’t defy the federal government, considering that the Union won. Arkansas repealed its pointless but symbolically destructive amendment — narrowly — in 1990. This year the Alabama legislature referred Amendment Two to the voters to take out of the state’s constitution the three most egregious vestiges of racism in its segregation amendment. They were that schools must be segregated, that a poll tax had to be paid and that a right to an education at taxpayer expense did not exist for an Alabama child. (And you thought the purpose of a constitution was to grant, not void, rights.) The idea of the latter was to make sure no lawyer, judge, outside agitator or godless liberal could ever say under constitutional imprimatur that Alabama bore any responsibility to its black children’s schooling.Alabamians voted Nov. 2 on whether to repeal. With nearly 1.4 million votes cast, it appears that Amendment Two failed by about 2,500 votes. The typical Alabama voter marked a ballot for Bush and segregation. You’re asking how this could happen. The legislature referred the amendment unanimously. The governor endorsed it. The answer is that professed Christians, those of supposedly superior moral values, beat Amendment Two. The opposition was led by the state’s Christian Coalition, which assured everyone that it opposed segregation and a poll tax, of course. It said those provisions had long been moot anyway. It said it would work with the Legislature to repeal them. But it was Amendment Two’s third repealing action — of the clause saying no child had a right to an education in Alabama — that these professed Christians rejected. Roy Moore, the ousted Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who built a Ten Commandments monument in the courthouse, said that repealing the ban on a right to education would effectively establish such a right. That, he asserted, would be bad. He said trial lawyers would use the deletion to file suit to get taxes raised for public schools and maybe interfere with home schools and Christian schools. Alabama doesn’t want to end up like us in Arkansas. We were recently told by our state courts that our constitution’s ancient education article requires us to do better by our children. That’s especially the case for underprivileged African-Americans not enrolled in home schools or private or Christian ones, those retro tools of resegregation. So, while pink and ever-reddening Arkansas struggles with a court order to reverse the tragic lot of those disadvantaged by race, Alabama stays immune from such inconvenience and a deeper shade of red under professed Christian rule. The only price is a little racism in the constitution.

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