Rep. Merika Coleman speaks during the special session on redistricting at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala., on Monday November 1, 2021.

The Alabama House of Representatives Thursday approved a measure that would allow state voters to remove racist language from the Alabama Constitution.

HJR 88, sponsored by Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, passed on a 94 to 0 vote. It goes to the Senate. The measure would put a proposed recompilation of Alabama’s 1901 Constitution before voters in November, which would take out three sections of outdated and racist language.

Remove a clause from the state prohibition on slavery that allows involuntary servitude “for the punishment of crime, of which the party shall have been duly convicted.” That language opened the door to Alabama’s convict-labor system, used until 1928 to arrest Black Alabamians, often on dubious pretexts, and force them into difficult and often deadly work. Three states — Colorado, Nebraska and Utah — have removed similar language from their constitutions since 2018.

Strike language directing poll tax revenues to counties for educational purposes. Poll taxes disenfranchised Black Alabamians and poor whites. The 24th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1964, banned the practice. Most other poll tax provisions in the Alabama Constitution were removed by Amendment 579.

Strike language from a 1956 amendment to the Constitution, passed in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education, that would authorize the Legislature to allow children to “attend schools provided for their own race,” as well as a provision allowing the Legislature to intervene in schools in the name of “peace and order.” Supporters of segregation used it as a code phrase to uphold the separation of schools on race in the 1950s. Alabama Attorney General John Patterson argued in August 1956 that the city of Montgomery could not maintain “peace and order … if, by court decree, a Negro man is permitted to sit by a white woman.”

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