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Alabama Votes Reveal Complex Southern Values

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Written by Basil on 11/28/2004 8:56 PM. Filed under:

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In a recent vote to amend their agéd constitution, Alabama citizens revealed that the issues which birthed the War Between the States still drive the children of the South. A proposed amendment would have removed controversial and archaic wording refering to separate schools for “white and colored children,” as well as a passage that affirms that “Alabama’s constitution does not guarantee a right to a public education.”

A Washington Post article on the vote interpreted the amendment’s failure to pass in a fashion typical of the post-bellum Union: It’s about race, and the underlying constitutional issue is a smoke-screen. Though the author tries to show both sides equally, he reveals his misunderstanding of Southern culture with passages like the following:

The argument plays to Alabama’s primal fear of federal control, a fear born of years of resentment over U.S. courts’ ordering the desegregation of schools and the creation of black-majority legislative districts.

It is born of a primal fear, but that fear is not born from resentment over federal efforts to force desegregation on the South. It is deeper than that. It is the same fear that gave birth to the War.

According to the minority report on the War, Confederates believed that states are just that: states, not provinces or prefectures. Furthermore, they believed in the Constitution, whose tenth amendment guarantees that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” According to the minority opinion, this is the issue which gave birth to the War. But the victors, as the cliché goes, write the history books.

The article further reveals that Southerners are not incapable of learning to live together in a multiethnic society: Another recent vote repealed a ban on inter-racial marriage. So, if the same constituency voted to repeal a ban on inter-racial marriages, would not a reasonable person recognize that the failure of the present amendment is not about race but something more fundamental?

Perhaps saddest of all is that black Alabamans accept the Union line as canon:

“There are people here who are still fighting the Civil War,” said Tommy Woods, 63, a deacon at Bethel and a retired school administrator. “They’re holding on to things that are long since past. It’s almost like a religion.”

Yes, they are still fighting the War, but the issues are not past; they are very much present. The issues are not race and freedom and civil liberties for minorities; they are a right reading of the Constitution versus an overweening, unconstitutional centralism that was martially imposed by President Lincoln’s war.

And wars often linger for many, many generations. Just ask the Orthodox about Constantinople.

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2 Responses to “Alabama Votes Reveal Complex Southern Values”

  1. Victoria Says:

    The word “United” comes in here somewhere, which means that we need to agree on some basic stuff. Africa, for example, is a collection of very definitely non-united states, and it’s a heck of a mess in most places.

    And btw, a RECENT vote repealed a ban on inter-racial marriage?! Good lord, we are *troglodytes*.

  2. Huw Raphael Says:

    Thanks for the invite, Basil – that’s a very good post.

    I’m not sure if the constitutional changes were one ballot item or more than one. But if “Alabama’s constitution does not guarantee a right to a public education” were listed, I’d have voted to ensure it stays in the constitution: as it is the right of a state to do or not. But then again I’d drain the schools of tax funds and allow for home-schooling and other forms of free market competition.