Constitution outdated or misunderstood?

Published 10:25 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2007

By By Steve Flowers
Our 1901 Alabama Constitution is criticized as being outdated and in need of overhaul. Proponents have longed for and worked for a constitutional convention to enact a new basic document for decades. More people would agree with them if they only knew the history of how our original Constitution was written and approved.
It was conceived and written by Black Belt planters with the intent to entrench their economic interests and to permanently disfranchise blacks as well as poor whites. It was also approved with rampant vote fraud and chicanery, which if performed under the spotlight of today's media would have rendered it unconstitutional and would have landed most of the architects of the plan in prison. It violated basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution, especially the 15th Amendment. It was a soiled and sordid document from its outset.
When the 1901 Constitutional Convention was held it was made up of all white men. Females could not vote and were not represented. Blacks were not represented at the Convention and they had fallen back under the patriarchal control of their former slave owners. They had just been simply resurrected as sharecroppers and their votes were stolen by their overseers. There were no black delegates at the Convention. The Black Belt planters allowed their black friends to vote so that they could orchestrate their vote for their use and purpose. The north Alabamians feared this move.
The vote to have the Convention came in April of 1901. The vote was split along the traditional political lines. The north Alabama and Wiregrass farmers voted against a convention. Jefferson County was split evenly and the cotton counties of the Tennessee Valley and Black Belt delivered an overwhelming vote for a convention. The planters used their control over their black brethren to secure the victory. For example, Lowndes County had 5,500 registered black voters to 1,000 whites. The county voted 3,226 to 338 for the convention.
When the Convention convened the 155 delegates were dominated by Black Belt planters and Birmingham industrialists. They created a document which disfranchised blacks and poor whites. The literary tests, cumulative poll taxes, and requirement to own land made the vote almost insurmountable to these two groups of Alabamians.
The statewide referendum vote to approve the racist and tainted document was 108,613 in favor to 81,734 against. The vote in the twelve Black Belt counties was 36,224 in favor to 5471 against. The vote in the remaining counties was 76,263 against and 72,389 in favor. Therefore the obvious winning majority came from the Black Belt and guess what, over half of the majority votes came from black voters who could neither read nor write. They had been led to the polls by their patriarchal, landowning, gentrified white brethren, or if they were unable to go vote the Black Belters voted them anyway.
There were ten Black Belt counties where more votes were cast for ratification than there were legal voters. In these counties almost every eligible black was "voted" although thousands never approached the polls.
The black voter had voted to take away his own right to vote. The 1901 Constitution clearly took away this right in direct violation of the 15th Amendment. It would be 65 years later with the passage of the Voting Rights Act that blacks could essentially vote in Alabama.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at <> .

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox