Bailey Thomson Professor
Journalism Department
Box 870172
University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
Tel: 205-348-8617
Fax: 205-348-2780

 

A new book on the 1901 Alabama constitution should overcome doubts

By John Ehinger
Huntsville Times
07/07/02

If you live in Alabama, if you're proud of how far the state has come but frustratIed at how far it still must go, have some summer reading for you. If you don't have time this summer, fall will be OK. So will winter. So will any time. The subject matter is that important.

A new book, ''A Century of Controversy: Constitutional Reform in Alabama,'' will be published Aug. 2 by the University of Alabama Press. Just in time, I might add, to fuel the constitutional reform debate in the fall gubernatorial campaign. Make no mistake: This is more than a serious book; this is a scathing indictment of Alabama's outmoded and shameful constitution.

The volume's 12 essays should dispel whatever delusional notions may remain that the constitution of 1901 can't be all that bad. Believe me, it can.

The 12 contributing essayists are all highly qualified and widely respected historians, political scientists and academics in related fields. Their works are meticulously researched, their suggestions on target, their conclusions irrefutable.

Edited by Bailey Thomson, a University of Alabama journalism professor (and a long-time newspaper writer and editor whose career included a stint at The Huntsville Times), ''A Century of Controversy'' does not equivocate. It cites a mountain of damning evidence as to how the constitution came to be enacted, what it has done to this state and how it can be replaced with a modern and responsible document.

The essays do not cover new ground but old ground too easily forgotten. As you have no doubt read in this section and in other state newspapers, the constitution of 1901 burdens Alabama with a document that fails. It fails to treat all citizens equally; it fails to provide the public or the Legislature the authority to enact a fair and reliable tax system; it fails to break the stranglehold of special interests and thus denies the state's communities the power to decide their fate for themselves.

The conclusions of the authors are identical -- or nearly so -- to the ones you have read on state editorial pages, ours and others. But here the writers are not constrained by the deadlines or space limitations of daily newspapers. They offer source after source, footnote after footnote. No person possessed of even minimal literacy could read such history and such analysis and not be outraged at the bad things 1901 constitution has done to good people.

I won't name all the contributors, but in addition to Thomson, they include Auburn's Wayne Flynt and Brad Moody and Jacksonville State's Harvey Jackson. For more information, visit www.uapress.ua.edu. It should be available soon at many bookstores. At $25, ''A Century of Controversy'' is not cheap, but it's less than some popular novels -- and it's a far better investment. Ignore it at your peril.

John Ehinger's e-mail: johne@htimes.com.

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