Alabama voters elected to keep language requiring separate schools for black and white students intact within the state Constitution by rejecting Amendment 4 on Tuesday.
The rejection was a response to an outcry from educators and legislators who argued the amendment did not go far enough in its attempts to rewrite the state’s most powerful document.
Federal law has since made the controversial language, which also requires the levy of a poll tax, legally obsolete. But the amendment’s supporters had argued that the language sent the wrong message about Alabama to individuals and entities outside the state.
The amendment’s opponents say any eventual rewrite should also eliminate the phrasing that denies Alabamians’ constitutional right to an education.
Henry Mabry, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, viewed Tuesday’s result as a vote for educational access.
“The defeat of Amendment 4 should send a clear message to Montgomery that the rights of our school children to a public education should stand,” Mabry said Tuesday. “Alabama spoke tonight, and the state’s people said they value a public education for our children.”
Amendment 4 was the only one out of 11 proposed constitutional amendments that did not pass.
By twice rejecting amendments that would strike controversial language – one that would eliminate phrasing about the right to a public education, and one that would not – it appears Alabama prefers the status quo to the danger of unintended legal consequences that may come with reform, said Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham.
“Alabama seems to be pretty satisfied with the language in the Constitution,” Newton said.
But supporters of the revision argued that the mandates are not a positive reflection on the state. Billy Canary, CEO of Business Council of America, told a local news station that removing the amendment would give Alabama “the type of image that helps us promote ourselves as a state around the nation and around the world.”
But black legislators and the Alabama Education Association believe the amendment would have done more harm than good.
Amendment 4 was struck down by 61 percent of voters. This is the second time lawmakers have tried to pass legislation removing the racist language from the 1901 Constitution.