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Alright, you looked at the title of this article and said to yourself, “McGraw Hill told us that President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation.” Well besides enslaved Africans in Galveston, Texas not finding out they were “free” until two years later, a form of slavery is still upheld in the United States Constitution to this very today.
First, the Constitution needs to undergo a review and revision every couple of years because throughout history, major movements have been formed in defiance of a number of amendments, notably the 14th.
Clearly it doesn’t represent a modern or progressive democracy for the people and by the people. It’s a prehistoric composition of bias, privilege and patriarchy.
Also, the fact that we’ve let the 13th amendment ride this whole time with “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction” is egregious.
But in less than two months, residents in Alabama, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont will vote on amendments prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, moving us closer to transforming prison labor and the criminal justice system. Colorado, Nebraska, and Utah have already approved similar ballot initiatives.
The “exception loophole” was originally carried by 20 states and is what allows slavery to thrive in 2022. It was a slick way for the United States to “legally” sustain a billion dollar industry on the backs of slave labor and ushered in Black Codes back in 1865.
Advocate and director Ava Duverney breaks the loophole down best in an Essence Magazine article:
“Everybody knows the 13th Amendment of the Constitution says there shall be no slavery in the United States. Most people don’t know that that is a lie. Right after it says there shall be no slavery, there’s a little clause, a little loophole, that says ‘except’ – the exception is, ‘except’ if we think you’re a criminal.”
To add to Sis. Duverney’s sentiments, Black people are the most demonized and unfairly criminalized demographic in the country which means we are still living under the rule of Black Codes and victims of involuntary servitude.
Now while criminalization based on racism is a larger beast that’s proven difficult to conquer, the ask here is that prisons at least pay inmates fair wages for their labor. However, some states just won’t get with the program.
Surprisingly, elected officials in California – which is considered one of the most progressive states in the country and has an extremely large population of people heavily impacted by the criminal justice industry – voted against removing the language from its constitution.
The provision would’ve granted inmates a minimum wage of $15 per hour, up from as putridly low as eight cents an hour. But, Governor Gavin Newsome’s administration argued that raising prison wages to $15 an hour would cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
And although Colorado did pass its amendment in 2018, a three-judge panel on an appellate court dismissed an inmate’s lawsuit for higher wages citing, “The state’s use of prison labor does not amount to involuntary servitude.”
Nevertheless, activists hope that removing the exception clause from state constitutions will encourage Congress to make the same move with the U.S. Constitution. Congresswoman Nikima Williams tweeted, “I’m bold enough to think that I can change the Constitution, and I know that there’s a national, bipartisan, multiracial movement to get it done. Let’s #EndTheException in the 13th Amendment.”
But the buck doesn’t stop at officially abolishing slavery. Voters in states around the country will also be asked to weigh in on measures to decriminalize marijuana and psychedelics, abortion rights (of course), expanded access to healthcare, minimum wage and right to work referendums and climate change–all issues impacting Black Americans.
So basically, Black people’s freedom is on the ballot, again, this year. How are you voting?