September 3rd, 1901

Alabama's New Constitution Bars Interracial Marriage and Mandates Segregated Schools

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 included several electoral policies to intentionally and effectively do that.

Because the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited race-based disenfranchisement, the discriminatory policies had to be appear race-neutral but be applied with bias. The constitution called for the appointment of three registrars from each county who were expected to act with an intent to minimize African American voter registration. The constitution’s new registration rules required that voters be able to read and write any section of the United States Constitution and be 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. The constitution also included a “grandfather clause,” allowing otherwise ineligible voters to vote with proof that one of their grandfathers had been an eligible voter.

Prior to the enactment of the new constitution, there were approximately 75,000 registered African American voters in Alabama. It was estimated that the new rules would reduce the African American electorate to less than 30,000. Alabama delegates approved the constitution 132-12, with only one Democrat voting against it. Alabama has amended the 1901 constitution since its adoption, but has never held a convention to create a wholly new one. Several of the discriminatory provisions of the 1901 constitution, including the mandate to maintain racially segregated public schools, remain in place today.