BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (NewsNation Now) — Alabama voters removed racist language and symbols of segregation from the state constitution that courts long ago ruled unconstitutional. Rhode Island did a similar U-turn to eradicate the word “plantations” from the state’s official name.
In a year when discussions of racial justice have dominated U.S. society like few others, five states voted to get rid of words, phrases and symbols that to many were painful reminders of the nation’s history of slavery and the systematic oppression of Black people.
In addition to the votes in Alabama and Rhode Island, residents of Utah and Nebraska decided to strip their constitutions of unenforceable provisions that allowed slavery as a punishment for criminal convictions. And Mississippi voters approved a state flag without the familiar X-shaped design of the Confederate battle flag.
The Alabama measure begins the process of removing Jim Crow language from the 1901 Constitution that was intended to entrench white supremacy. Voters in the mostly white, conservative state had rejected similar proposals twice since 2000.
Courts had previously struck down the legality of the segregationist provisions that were enshrined in the document long ago, but the language banning mixed-race marriage, allowing poll taxes and mandating school segregation remained.
Glenn Crowell, a Black Republican from Montgomery, was among the roughly 67% of voters who supported scrapping those sections.
“It just doesn’t make any sense nowadays,” said Crowell, 63. Yet another statewide vote will be required to approve the revisions after legislators consider a draft in 2022.
In neighboring Mississippi, about 71% of voters approved a new state flag featuring a magnolia and the words “In God We Trust” to replace the Confederate-themed flag that state legislators voted to retire in June after the nation erupted in demonstrations following Floyd’s killing.
Mississippi voters also eliminated an 1890s provision that aimed to ensure white control of the state by requiring majorities of both the popular vote and the 122 state House districts to win statewide office. Now, only a popular vote majority is required.
To the west, Utah and Nebraska approved provisions similar to Alabama’s to delete constitutional language allowing slavery as a possible punishment in criminal cases.
The measures, which passed by 81% in Utah and 68% in Nebraska, got relatively little attention before the vote.
The vote was closest in Rhode Island, where about 53% of voters supported the proposal to strip the words “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s formal name, first adopted in 1790. A similar measure failed in 2010.