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

Lesson 1: A Map Can Tell a Story

1. Background information for teachers:

 

Both the vote to hold a convention and the vote to ratify the resulting constitution in 1901 were hotly contested, revealing sectional cleavages familiar in Alabama's history. The need for a new constitution to replace the 1875 "Redeemer Constitution" was sought by Alabamians with a variety of reform agendas, but the major issue came down to denying the vote to blacks in an effort to promote "honest elections."

 

In the vote to assemble a convention, the proponents drew their strength from the plantation Black Belt counties, garnering 61 percent of the statewide vote. Opposition was centered in the north Alabama hill country and the southeastern Wiregrass region where white small farmers feared losing their right to vote in the proposed "reform" constitution. Once the new constitution was promulgated and put to a vote, the opposition increased so that the 1901 Constitution garnered only 57 percent of the statewide vote.

 

Again, the Black Belt counties -- home to most black Alabamians -- provided the margin of victory since a majority of votes in the rest of the state disapproved the new constitution. In ten of these Black Belt counties, more votes were cast in favor of ratification than there were registered voters -- reprising the accusations of vote fraud that had led to the demand for a new constitution in the first place.

 

2. Learning Objectives:
    Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to:

     

    1. Identify various counties in Alabama.

     

    2. Recognize voting patterns.

     

    3. Discuss a possible link between the geographic areas of Alabama and political opinion.

 

3. Suggested Activities:
    1. Provide students with two blank maps of Alabama and two different colors of crayons
    or colored pencils and a copy of Document 1.

     

    2. Ask the students to label each map as follows:
    Map A. Should a Constitutional Convention be Held? (April 23, 1901)
    Map B. Ratification of the Constitution (November 11, 1901)

     

    3. Using one color ask the students to shade in the counties that supported the convention
    on map A.

     

    4. Using the same color, ask the students to shade in the counties that supported the constitution on map B.

     

    5. Using the second color, ask the students to shade in the counties that were against the convention on map A.

     

    6. Using the second color, again, ask the students to shade in the counties that did not support the constitution on map B.

     

    7. Allow students to point out the similarities and differences in the maps.

     

    8. Use a map of the geographic divisions of the state. Are there patterns that can be noticed? How did the Black Belt vote? How did the northern portions of Alabama vote?

     

    9. What conclusions or ideas can be drawn about the population of Alabama and the support
    of the constitution?

     

    10. Allow the students to locate their county and discuss the opinions of their home areas.

 

Document:
"Votes by Counties on the Question of Holding a Constitutional Convention and the Ratification of the Constitution," Alabama Department of Archives and History, Official and Statistical Register 1903 (Montgomery: Brown Printing Co., 1903).