My pal Hill Carmichael, Coordinator of the Constitutional Reform Education Campaign at Greater Birmingham Ministries, has a great piece in today’s Birmingham News. Hill’s great-grandfather was a delegate to the 1901 constitutional convention.
…According to convention President John B. Knox, the delegates set out “to establish white supremacy in this state.” To accomplish their goal, the delegates devised a system of government designed to centralize political power in Montgomery, strip cities and counties of the authority to make their own decisions, and discourage black and poor white voters from participating in the democratic process. No constitution is perfect, but the 1901 Alabama Constitution, which remains in effect today, has been almost perfect in achieving what it set out to do.
I am the great-grandson of Archibald Hill Carmichael. I share his name – he was the first, I am the fourth. I am neither a lawyer nor a politician. Instead, I work at Greater Birmingham Ministries, where my sole focus is to coordinate a statewide campaign to create and adopt a new state constitution. So there is something personal about this campaign to educate Alabama citizens about the 1901 Constitution, because my name is literally on it.
But your name is on it, too, as is the name of every Alabamian who allows the 1901 Constitution to remain in effect. By our complacency, we reratify the 1901 Constitution every year. [emphasis mine]
The 1901 Constitution is no more personal to me than it is to hundreds of local leaders in Alabama who cannot do what they know is best for their cities and counties without first asking Montgomery for permission. It is personal to the thousands of Alabamians who, as they struggle to make ends meet, are forced to pay absurdly high sales taxes on basic necessities like food, medicine and baby supplies. It is personal to the public schoolteacher who holds her breath and crosses her fingers every year, hoping and praying that our highly volatile tax revenues are high enough to avoid another year of proration and outdated textbooks. And it is very personal to the thousands of schoolchildren languishing in underfunded schools in the Black Belt, for whom the American Dream will be deferred until the adults decide to scrap a system of taxation that is doing exactly what it was designed to do: keep the wealthy landowners in their rural counties from paying their fair share of taxes…
“By our complacency, we reratify the 1901 Constitution every year.” We reratify a document that has proven so inadequate to the needs of our state that it has been amended 799 times in 106 years (the US constitution, by contrast, has been amended 27 times). That’s an indictment, but also a challenge. How long are we going to wait to meet it?