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Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:
The Alabama Constitution of 1901 Unit

Lesson 3: "We have...no member...who can speak"

1. Background information for teachers:

 

Black Alabamians knew full well that the state Constitution was being redrawn in 1901 largely to restrict voting to "the intelligent and the virtuous." Among the four separate petitions addressed to the constitutional convention from black citizens was one forwarded with a cover letter by Booker T. Washington, perhaps the most renowned African American in the country. True to his oft-repeated message, the Tuskegee Institute founder/principal asked the convention delegates to recognize the economic value of black labor and to provide political compensation. This and the other softly worded pleas for a continuing voice in the political process for black Alabamians were ignored in the end.

 

2. Learning Objectives:
Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to:
    1. Identify the concerns of the black voters of Alabama in 1901.

     

    2. Analyze an historic document.

     

    3. Discuss the predictions made by Washington concerning the changes which were proposed affecting the black community.

 

3. Suggested Activities:
    1. Provide the students with copies of Document 1 and Document 2.

     

    2. Allow the students to read both documents.

     

    3. Upon completion, using the overhead projector or blackboard, ask the students to compile a list of requests from the African American population.

     

    4. Read aloud the last paragraph of the address:
    "Any law which will merely change the name and form of fraud, or can be interpreted as meaning one thing when applied to one race and something else when applied to another race, will not in our opinion improve our present condition, but may unsettle the peace and thrift of our people and decrease the wealth and prosperity of Alabama.

     

    5. Ask the students explain what Washington is trying to say to the legislators by writing this statement in their own words.

 

Documents:

Document 1: "Letter from Booker T. Washington to Hon. John B. Knox, 23 May 1901," Alabama Secretary of State Constitutional Convention Proceedings, SG17778, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 2: "To the Members of the Alabama Constitutional Convention," Alabama Secretary of State Constitutional Convention Proceedings, SG17778, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.