On this daySep 03, 1901

Alabama Makes Racial Segregation Mandatory

On September 3, 1901, Alabama adopted a new state constitution that prohibited interracial marriage and mandated separate schools for Black and white children. The state constitutional convention’s primary purpose was to legally disenfranchise Black voters, and the new constitution also included several electoral policies designed to suppress Black political power.

Framers of this constitution knew that, because the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited race-based disenfranchisement, discriminatory constitutional provisions intended to maintain white supremacy had to appear race-neutral. To that end, the new constitution called for the appointment of three registrars from each county who had wide discretion when accepting registration applications and were chosen and trained to minimize registration by African Americans.

The constitution’s new registration rules also required voters to be able to read and write any section of the U.S. Constitution and have been lawfully employed for the previous 12 months. Anyone who did not meet the employment specification could still register if he or his wife had real estate and possessions taxed at $300. Though these requirements had severely limited the voting rights of African Americans and poor white people in Alabama, the constitutional drafters provided exceptions that allowed voters to register anyway if they were voters, descendants of voters, or could demonstrate an understanding of the U.S. Constitution. This provision offered a loophole much more likely to apply to white men (who had been eligible for military service in the South). The effect was intentional.

Alabama was home to approximately 75,000 registered African American voters before the new constitution was enacted, but drafters estimated the new rules would reduce that number to less than 30,000. Alabama delegates approved the constitution 132-12. The state amended the 1901 constitution since its adoption, but several of the discriminatory provisions of the 1901 constitution—including the mandate to maintain racially segregated public schools—remained until 2022. 

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