Friday, August 29, 2008
Staff Reporter

Supporters of efforts to reform Alabama's 1901 constitution met Thursday to honor a former Press-Register editor and advocate for rewriting the document.

More than 250 people gathered at the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center in Mobile - and another 150 people participated via telecast at the Harbert Center in Birmingham - for the second annual Bailey Thomson Awards Luncheon.

The Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform Foundation, which Thomson helped form in April 2000, hosted the event.

"It's a grassroots effort. It's all about the people," Barbara Drummond, Mobile city spokeswoman and foundation board member, said before the event began. "And that's what this luncheon is about. It builds upon someone's legacy, who had a sincere desire to see Alabama better."

Thomson worked both as a writer and editor at the Press-Register and as a journalism professor at the University of Alabama before he died of a heart attack in November 2003 at age 54. His widow, Kristi Thomson, his sister Becky Jordan, and a nephew attended the luncheon Thursday in Mobile.

Thomson helped ignite the reform movement while working at the Press-Register in the early 1990s. He and colleagues wrote an editorial series on the constitution titled "Sin of the Fathers," which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1994.

"This luncheon helps to educate the public and it honors my husband, who, when I asked, 'What drives you to spend thousands of hours on this cause?' he said, 'What's the alternative?'" Kristi Thompson said after the event.

Alabama historian Wayne Flynt, a founding member of the foundation who served on the faculty at Auburn University, was given the Bailey Thomson Award. Flynt has written at least four books exploring the issues of poverty and cultural issues in the state.

In his remarks, Flynt said that Thomson's "inherent commitment to decency and life" had been carried on through the foundation and its work.

Keynote speaker Jack Edwards, who served 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, said he believes that success is imminent for the reform cause.

The authors of Alabama's 1901 constitution sought to centralize political power in Montgomery and the Legislature, while hamstringing local governments and extinguishing black rights. Over the years, it has become the longest known constitution in the world, according to the foundation, having been amended 800 times.

"It is so full of racist language that is it unimaginable," Edwards said. "But I think that the work of Bailey's story ... is going to bear fruit."

Four teenagers were honored at the luncheon for their participation in this year's foundation's high school education contest, which challenged seniors statewide to write essays or build multimedia projects explaining why the constitution should be rewritten.

"Young people are taking the leadership on this," Edwards said, "and they are making this happen."
Next year's luncheon is scheduled for Aug. 27 in Huntsville. Those interested in learning more about the foundation can visit its Web site

Staff Reporter Sebastian Kitchen contributed to this report.

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