Alabama's Almost-Senator Fought To Keep School Segregation Alive In His State's Constitution

by Chris Tognotti
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There's perhaps no more radically far-right a candidate for the U.S. Senate right now than Roy Moore of Alabama. Once the chief justice of the state's Supreme Court, and twice suspended from that job for refusing to obey the law when it ran up against his far-right, conservative Christian beliefs, Moore also has a long career as a failed candidate for political office, losing gubernatorial elections in 2006 and 2010. And now, as the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, his views are getting some thorough scrutiny ― for instance, Moore opposed removing segregation language from the Alabama constitution back in 2004, warning his supporters that the proposed amendment to the state constitution was part of some sort of a tax-grabbing scheme.

As Cameron Joseph expertly detailed for Talking Points Memo this week, Moore, now 70 years old, jumped headlong into fighting efforts to remove explicitly segregationist language in the state's constitution 13 years ago, and from the sounds of things, his public agitating had an impact.

At that time, Moore was gearing up for his failed 2006 gubernatorial bid, and not unlike what transpired at the national political level in 2004, when incumbent president George W. Bush leveraged so-called "culture war" issues to try to get ahead (in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage), so too did Moore make a wedge issue out of the anti-segregation amendment.

Section 256 of the Alabama state constitution, for the record, states that "white and colored children" must be segregated while attending public schools.

The legislature shall establish, organize, and maintain a liberal system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of the children thereof between the ages of seven and twenty-one years. ... Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.

This provision isn't still in effect, needless to say, as the Supreme Court ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional in the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. It took a long time for the state to actually integrate, however, thanks to fervent efforts by then-Democratic governor and staunch segregationist and racist George Wallace.

In 1963, Wallace physically blocked two black students, Vivian Malone and James A. Hood, from entering a school in an infamous, symbolic defense of the institution of segregation. Ultimately, President John F. Kennedy federalized and ordered the state's National Guard to escort the children in order to ensure their safety in a climate of simmering, violent racism.

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But that dire language has nevertheless persisted in the Alabama state constitution, from the time it was written more than a century ago clear through today. That's right: After Moore helped successfully defeat efforts to strip this language from the constitution in 2004, subsequent efforts (with the last coming in 2012) have similarly been defeated, meaning the segregationist language is still in there.

It's unclear whether Moore will actually win his election against Democratic senate nominee Doug Jones, but if he does, he'll instantly become one of the furthest-right, most radical members of the Senate. There simply aren't a lot of elected officials, even within the Republican Party, who have a track record on-par with Moore's.

Despite that fact, or in some cases because of it, he's drawn a lot support from some powerful figures within the American far-right movement ― people like former presidential strategist and Breitbart chief Steve Bannon, for example. President Donald Trump also jumped on the Moore bandwagon after the Republican senate primary concluded, even though he endorsed Moore's opponent, Sen. Luther Strange.