Alabama: The History of a Deep South State

By William Warren Rogers; Robert David Ward et al. | Go to book overview

TWENTY-ONE
The Constitution of 1901

HISTORIANS have often noted the rising tide of racial prejudice that flooded the white Southern mind at the turn of the century. Slavery had at least fostered familiarity, while segregation bred suspicion through separation. The tentative promises of racial cooperation that emerged in the Populist Era were obliterated. In Alabama the reaction inaugurated a rigidly segregated society, legalized inequality, and, incongruously, overthrew old constitutional rights by means of a new constitution. The last vestiges of Reconstruction hopes were crushed by the Southern states whose actions were upheld and endorsed by compliant chief executives, sympathetic Congresses, and a Supreme Court whose views on race were one-dimensional. Faced with the crossroads of decision and direction, the political and economic leadership of the South and Alabama chose the one-way street that led through decades of reaction, injustice, recurring violence, and sectional stagnation.

Long before the brief interlude of 1898 and foreign distractions, agitation for a new constitution had flickered, blazed up, and then died away again as fears and doubts withheld the necessary fuel for action. The demand for black disfranchisement had been balanced by poor white fears that they too would lose the vote. Alabamians who saw the need for greater governmental services and a broader tax base were stymied by the interests that were served by rigid tax ceilings or that approved a government that governed least. Through the terms of Governor Johnston the issue of constitutional change rose and fell. No one had yet managed to build the promises and compromises that would allow some action. It was only a matter of time.

In opposing a constitutional convention, Johnston had won his point when he persuaded the legislature to cancel the process. Yet the success or failure of the issue centered directly on Johnston's own fortunes. After serving two terms as governor, Johnston attempted to prolong his power. He focused on displacing John Tyler Morgan, who, as a U.S. senator, had won national attention by championing a canal across Nicaragua. Johnston's success with the legislature seemed to indicate his strength. If his

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