Oklahoma needs to repeal blot in its constitution

Three years after Oklahoma became a state in 1907 and elected its first black member of the Legislature, Republican Rep. A.C. Hamlin, his House colleagues conspired to rid themselves of him by proposing and passing a constitutional amendment that insidiously provided that if you or your relatives couldn’t vote in 1866, then you could not vote. Since no black could vote in 1866, then blacks were disenfranchised.

Hamlin was defeated. Mercifully, the federal courts intervened and the “grandfather clause” was declared unconstitutional. Talented blacks returned to the Legislature, culminating in the selection of Republican T.W. Shannon as House speaker in 2013.

A second suspect minority that came into the sights of our early Legislature was my faith community, Catholics. About the time that legislative Democrats were passing odious “Jim Crow” laws and attempting to restrict the public use of alcohol so that consumption of wine at the Catholic Mass would be discouraged, Oklahoma’s constitution mirrored those of 34 other states by including a simple proviso intended to retard the further spread of Catholic education and Catholic values.

Article II, Section 5 essentially prohibited any state support for religious activity of any kind. Backers had attempted to put a so-called Blaine amendment into the U.S. Constitution but their effort was defeated. Oklahoma adopted Blaine and made it state policy.

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