New South Coalition Shows Interests
By Jim Cox
(Reprinted from the Oct. 11th Clark County Democrat)
JACKSONVILLE -- October 26, 2001 -- Clarke County native Dr. Hardy Jackson was one of the featured speakers at the Alabama New South Coalition's annual convention in Selma Saturday. Also speaking to the predominantly black political group was Gov. Don Seigelman.
Jackson, head of the history and languages department at Jacksonville University, spoke on the 1901 Constitutional Convention and gave some opinions on the document. Alabama's Constitution was the main topic for the group Saturday and other panelists also discussed it.
There is a movement to rewrite the constitution. It is blamed by those who favor change as part of the reason for Alabama's problems. Until now, no black group in the state has taken a stand on the issue but New South's officers Saturday spoke in favor of rewriting the document.
Jackson told the group that the document was rewritten in 1901 in a convention controlled by the plantation planters on the Black Belt and the industrialists of the Birmingham area. One of the main reasons for a new document was to take away the voting rights of blacks and poor whites.
An earlier constitution had given blacks the right to vote but that right was scuttled in 1901. The whites who ran the constitutional convention that year devised a document that put qualifications on voting rights designed to keep blacks and poor whites from voting.
Jackson called the process a "manipulation that modern politics look tame." He said a statewide vote to ratify the document was stolen by those in power. The vote was some 108,000 for and 82,000 against; but in the heavily black populated Black Belt, the vote was 36,224 for and 5,474 against--a sure sign of fraud somewhere.
"I laugh sometimes; it was so ludicrous, but then I'm embarrassed for laughing," Jackson said.
The fruit of controlling whites' labors was evident in the next election after the new constitution took effect: Voting statewide was off by about 40 percent and those eliminated were blacks and poor whites. The "Big Mules"--the Birmingham industrialists and the Black Belt planters--gained control of the state and kept it for years and continue to have tremendous influence and control today.
"This [the constitution] has been a yoke around our neck and we need to change it and change it soon," Jackson concluded.
Sam Jones, a Mobile County commissioner and president of the Associaton of County Commissions of Alabama, talked about how the document ties the hands of local governments, county commissions especially. Now, municipalities and county commissions must often go to their legislative delegations to lobby for local bills to get anything done.
In Mobile County, one senator's or four representatives' opposition can kill any request, Jones said. As an example of how limited county commissioners are, Jones said, "We had to go to Montgomery to ask for permission to kill mosquitoes in Mobile County."
County commissions are often criticized, but the truth is they are very limited on what they can do, Jones explained. And the reason they are limited is because of the 1901 constitution. The framers vested so much in the Alabama Legislature that the local government must get legislative approval before they can do a lot of things. That's why there are over 700 amendments to Alabama's constitution. Jones laughed and said that the Mobile commissioners had issued an order that smoking isn't allowed in the courthouse there. "But I don't think we have the authority to do that." As a backup, the Mobile City Council, which shares quarters with the county, passed an ordinance to that effect, too.
Levetta Morgan Battle, a Birmingham attorney, said the national constitutional and its 26 amendments consists of only 27 sheets of paper, but Alabama's constitution and 700 amendments require two thick volumes. The national constitution allows for the operation of a trillion dollar budget while Alabama's budget is in proration. She cited several examples of amendments that control local governments' actions as complained of by Commissioner Jones.
During his remarks, Seigelman praised the black organization and complained of the lack of minorities in state government. He noted there is not a black constitutional officer in the state, no minorities on the Alabama Public Service Commission and none on the Alabama Supreme Court. "It is not the fault of the candidates; they were in the arena," he said to applause.
Siegelman too decried the constitution and said it has held Alabama down for too long. He blamed it for the current proration crisis the state is in. He said Alabama has made great strides in many areas including education but more is needed. Of education efforts he said, "Every child in Alabama is entitled to reach their God-given potential and that's what we're going to fight for."
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