At the beginning of every quadrennium and the first regular legislative session year there goes out a hue and cry to revamp or rewrite our antiquated 1901 Constitution. Most proponents of a new state constitution want a constitutional convention to create a new state charter.

Governor Riley has not addressed this issue in his first four years in office and it is doubtful that he will propose any action during his second term. It will again be swept under the rug to be addressed maybe in the next quadrennium.

Alabama, from its inception as a state in 1819, was an agrarian based economy like most of the nation and the other states of the South. Therefore, the basic political roots of the State were tied to the soil. The cotton growing areas had the best soil and were home to the plantation aristocracy. The Black Belt area is named that because of the rich luminous soil which is conducive to growing cotton.

Cotton was the king crop and economic bellwether of Alabama agriculture. Many people think that the Black Belt area is named that because it is home to many black Alabamians. It has a large black population because the black soil grew cotton. Therefore, that is where all the slaves lived. The large black population there today is still there because their ancestors were slaves.

In contrast to the Black Belt, the rural hill counties of north Alabama were home to yeomen farmers who lived off their forty acres and a mule. The farmers of north Alabama and the Wiregrass had nothing in common with the Black Belt planters. Their soil was more suited for small crops of vegetables and livestock. It is not surprising that when the first vibrations of secession and Civil War began to reverberate that these north Alabama hill farmers were not excited about fighting a war over slavery because they did not own any. Therefore the Civil War brought wide division when it came to secession. One north Alabama county, Winston, even went as far as to secede from Alabama when Alabama seceded from the Union. It stayed with the Union and became the free State of Winston.

The Black Belters and Tennessee Valley cotton interests controlled state government and dictated Alabama’s entry into the Civil War. The throes of war and the twenty years of reconstruction devastated the State of Alabama. It was a thirty-year span that we are just now recovering from economically.

The radical reconstruction rule was mandated by northern Republicans. The retribution placed on the South was incomprehensible. When white southerners got back control of their state governments in the 1880’s the hatred for the northern reconstruction Republicans was so severe that it was burned indelibly into the memory of the southerners for decades to come. Thus the South and Alabama became Democrats. There would be no Republican Party in Alabama for eighty years. Alabama was a one party state. All elections were held in the Democratic Primary.

When our current 1901 Constitution was written and adopted the Black Belt planters were in control. At the Constitutional Convention there were no female delegates, no black delegates, and no Republican delegates. The Constitution was conceived and written by Black Belt planters with the intent to entrench their economic interests and to permanently keep blacks, as well as poor whites, from voting.

We will continue next week with our look at our 1901 Constitution.