Slavery. A brief overview of legal slavery in 2019
I became aware of slavery early. Growing up in South Africa with four black servants. We had apartheid laws and Christianity to validate white superiority. Just like America but not as extreme. Living as a student of racism and white privilege is an ongoing 45 year lesson for me in which I find out more every day. I recently learned about Section 1 of the Thirteenth Amendment and wonder why I missed it before. The one that makes slavery legal.
Slavery, for me at least, is a big thing. Having an informed position on slavery, why it began and why it continues, is a minimum requirement for any informed conversation on human nature.
I became aware of the California fires when I moved to California. Some 8 million acres burn every year in the autumn months. I have watched Cal Fire in action a few times. (Talk about a free airshow.) Last year I saw prisoners fighting the fires and I thought. Great, that’s a good opportunity for them to rehabilitate and possibly train for a new career in the Fire department. But then I read more. The California fires provide a unique insight in California. And why education matters.
Every year at wildfire season, specially chosen prisoners, 3,400 inmates in 2018 from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, find themselves working 24-hour shifts alongside salaried California firefighters who earn an annual mean wage of $74,000 plus benefits. The inmates earn just $2 per day with an additional $1 per hour when fighting an active fire. An inmate also earns extra time off of their sentence for good behavior, typically two days off for each day served. But they can never go on to be professional firefighters because the law excludes ex cons. These low-cost firefighters save California an estimated $80 million a year.
How close to slave labor is that?
But wait. This is just the best example of rehabilitation within the prison system. Head south for examples of labor gangs forced to work in the commercial sector, for the profit of their bosses. For no payment at all and no credit to their term.
Here’s the thing if you know your constitution. Thirteenth Amendment. Section 1 :
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Incarcerated persons have no constitutional rights and can be forced to work as punishment for their crimes. In many cases they are. White overlords form prison labor gangs and become millionairess selling their service. Slave labor. Ironically or not, most of the prisoners forced into this slave labor are Black. And the ones exploiting this constitutional error are white.
The more you learn about slavery, the USA and inherent racism in Christian Conservative America, the more clear it becomes that we must END the constitutional loop hole allowing slavery.
Amend the Thirteenth Amendment. reduce the numbers in prison and reform the approach to rehabilitation whilst in prison. It is a crime against all humanity. Over 2 million Americans in prison as I write? More than any society in History?
I propose we should make this change – end slavery – end for profit prisons and end the gross violations of individuals of poor educational and material opportunity by dumping them into a prison system without a second thought. Slavery and mass incarceration in a for profit prison system are unconstitutional. They only exist because of right wing racists abusing an opportunity arising from a poor choice of words in one sentence written 350 years ago.
In the Articles of Confederation, the nation’s first constitution, there is no mention of slavery. The states were represented in Congress by state, with each state picking its own representatives, so population, which became critical in the future House of Representatives, was not relevant. Also, because fugitive slaves, and the abolition movement, were almost unheard of as late as the 1780s, there is no mention of this issue in the Articles. There was no great movement in America to abolish slavery in the 1780’s, when the Constitutional Convention met. While there were opponents of slavery on a philosophical level, the abolition movement did not appear until the 1830’s, when the American Anti-Slavery Society was founded.
John Jay, great supporter of the Constitution after its creation and an author of The Federalist wrote in 1786, “It is much to be wished that slavery may be abolished. The honour of the States, as well as justice and humanity, in my opinion, loudly call upon them to emancipate these unhappy people. To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused.”
Oliver Ellsworth, one of the signers of the Constitution wrote, a few months after the Convention adjourned, “All good men wish the entire abolition of slavery, as soon as it can take place with safety to the public, and for the lasting good of the present wretched race of slaves.”
Patrick Henry, the great Virginian patriot, refused to attend the Convention because he “smelt a rat,” was outspoken on the issue, despite his citizenship in a slave state. In 1773, he wrote, “I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil. Everything we do is to improve it, if it happens in our day; if not, let us transmit to our descendants, together with our slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot and an abhorrence of slavery.”
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, which, famously, declared that “all men are created equal,” wrote, “There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it; for man is an imitative animal. This quality is the germ of all education in him.” Like many Southerners, Jefferson held slaves, as many as 223 at some points in his life. His family sold his slaves after his death, in an effort to relieve the debt he left his estate in.
In a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, George Washington wrote, “[Y]our late purchase of an estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view to emancipating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of your humanity. Would to God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country; but I despair of seeing it.” Washington and his wife held over 300 slaves. He wrote in his will that he’d wished to free his slaves, but that because of intermarriage between his and Martha’s slaves, he feared the break-up of families should only his slaves be freed. He directed that his slaves be freed upon her death. His will provided for the continued care of all slaves, paid for from his estate.
With the demise of the institution of slavery, 1865 in the USA, it was the hope of many that blacks would rise in their citizen status. Obstacles included bitterness the South felt about the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and the Radical Republicans. The second was basic prejudice. Inherent racism. Ingrained by Biblical belief. For centuries, most blacks had been relegated to a sub-human status, and that feeling, even among many Northerners, was not going to go away with slavery. Once the Southern states regained control of their own governments again, following Reconstruction, the Black Codes were quickly enacted.
The 14th and 15th Amendments were actually national reactions to Black Codes enacted in the South just after the Civil War. Legally, constitutionally, blacks were equal. Many of the Black Code provisions were illegal under the new amendments, and black voters, and even legislators, gained power in the immediate aftermath. But to counter the freedoms gained, eventually new Black Codes were enacted, most of which aimed to deny blacks the vote by means that did not rely on race on their face, but which relied on race at their root. Organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan also rose, intimidating black voters from exercising their new suffrage rights. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and other tactics, both legal and extra-legal, were used to deny blacks the vote. With no voice in the government, the rate of black voters, and any sign of black legislators, quickly disappeared.
Following the Plessy v Ferguson decision in 1896, where the Supreme Court ruled that while blacks had equal right under the law, but that separation of the races was legal as long as facilities were equal, throughout the South, and elsewhere, more laws were enacted to keep blacks on one side and whites on the other. These laws, known as Jim Crow laws, affected every aspect of the lives of blacks.
The term “Jim Crow” comes from popular minstrel shows around the time of the Civil War. The Jim Crow character was a stereotypical black man. The term was picked up to describe laws which segregated whites and blacks in everyday personal life, and to describe laws aimed at denying blacks the vote. By 1910, each state that had been a part of the Confederacy had a complex and complete system of Jim Crow laws in place. This legal separation continued to be buttressed by extra-legal acts, such as widespread lynchings and other terrorist acts committed upon any one who spoke out, or, often, on random blacks for the sake of pure terror.
The unfairness of the “separate but equal” doctrine seems obvious to us today, and the effects of the Plessy case on the lives of ordinary blacks seems to be very direct and incontrovertible. But it took 60 years before the courts were ready to part with the Plessy case. In that time, MANY people were killed, millions were denied the right to vote, some blacks being born and dying without even having voted, and segregation dug its claws ever deeper into American society. Culminating in 2016 with the College system choice being won by the White Supremacist racist sector in a reaction to the uppity shame of the previous White House resident. Blacks in the White house, one built by slaves, was a bridge too far in a Country where a Black man who dared to ‘Have a dream‘ was shot dead by a White racist.
George Stinney Jr.was 14 in 1944. He was convicted of beating two young white girls to death in the small town of Alcolu. His trial lasted three hours, and a jury of 12 white men took 10 minutes to find him guilty. he had to sit on a book on the electric chair, being so small. He is often cited as the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. At the time of the crime, 14 was the legal age of criminal responsibility in the state. His sister said he as with her at the time. George Stinney was pronounced innocent 7o years later, in 2014.
In 1958 Alabama law stated that “It shall be unlawful for white and colored persons to play together … in any game of cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, pool, billiards, softball, basketball, football, golf, track, and at swimming pools or in any athletic conference.”
Prejudice extended past the law into the jury box, too. According to the Jim Crow Guide, “three white youths who confessed to a Christmas Eve rape of a 17-year-old Negro girl at Decatur, Georgia, were nevertheless acquitted by the DeKalb County jury.”
In the end, as prejudices were seen to be as arbitrary as they are, the tide began to turn, especially in higher legal circles. In the North, organizations like the NAACP were formed to better the lives of blacks, and in doing so, they brought more and more legal challenges to segregation. When black soldiers returned from Europe after World War One, they were shocked to return to segregation, which did not exist across the Atlantic. These men were the first large group to agitate against segregation. In World War Two, threats of unrest in the military industry and within the ranks forced President Roosevelt to equalize, though not desegregate, jobs and ranks. Blacks were enticed away from the South by the promise of jobs in the Mid-West and Northeast, where they enjoyed much more freedom.
Eventually, the federal courts, the Supreme Court in particular, began to see cases of segregation and discrimination as counter to the 14th Amendment and one by one, entire categories of Jim Crow laws began to fall. White opposition in the South to many of the rulings, such as those integrating schools and universities, was strong and militant. In several cases, U.S. Marshals or National Guardsmen had to be called out to protect pioneering black students.
Finally, the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were passed, in 1964 and 1965 respectively, ending legalized segregation and disenfranchisement. Jim Crow was dead, at least in the law. The last vestiges of legalized slavery were removed from the American legal system, for good. Jim Crow does live on, however, in the continuing, but seemingly dwindling, personal prejudice. America will not be able to say that the legacy of slavery has truly been eradicated until race is as irrelevant as eye color. In this, we have, sadly, reversed course.
In February 2007, almost 150 years after the end of the Civil War and 400 years after the introduction of slavery to the lands of the United States, the Virginia legislature anonymously adopted a resolution expressing “profound regret” for the state’s history of slavery. The apology was the first made by any of the former states of the Confederacy or any other state. Meeting in the former capital of the CSA, the resolution passed both the Virginia House and Senate by unanimous vote. The measure marks a high-point in the turn around of the state from that having the largest slave population to that electing the first black governor.
On March 27, 2007, the Maryland legislature passed a bill that expressed “profound regret” for its role in slavery.
On April 8, the North Carolina Senate issued an apology for its state’s role in slavery, and three days later, the North Carolina House did the same.
On April 24, 2007, the House and Senate of Alabama each separately passed apology resolutions, though they differed – the governor of Alabama said that if either body signed the others’ resolution, he would sign it. Similar efforts in Georgia at the same time failed – one black Georgia lawmaker said that it was insulting to think that an apology would make up for slavery.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) Introduces U.S. Apology for Slavery, Jim Crow. July 29, 2008
This Congress did the right thing in apologizing for the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and in encouraging the Japanese Government to apologize for the use of “comfort women.” But the fact that this government has not apologized to its own citizens, African-Americans, for the institution of slavery and for the Jim Crow laws that followed and accepted that fact and encouraged changes in our dialogue and understanding in the actions of this country to rectify that is certainly a mistake. And today we rectify that mistake. This is a symbolic resolution but hopefully it will begin a dialogue where people will open their hearts and their minds to the problems that face this country, from racism that exists in this country on both sides and which must end if we’re to go forward as the country that we were created to be and which we are destined to be. So it is with great honor that I speak on this resolution and urge the members of this body to pass this historic resolution, recognize our errors, but also recognize the greatness of this country, because only a great country can recognize and admit its mistakes and then travel forth to create indeed a more perfect union that works to bring people of all races, religions and creeds together in unity as Americans part of the United States of America. Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the time and I urge my colleagues to vote unanimously to pass this resolution today. Thank you.”
But still, in 2019, we have slavery in the USA. And a prison population that includes many Blacks there for the crime of being Black in America.
Instead of fixing this iniquitous compliance with Biblical stupidity, which can be done so very easily in practical terms, a minority percentage of Americans choose instead to elect a racist President simply to expunge Black advances and empower white superiority. Making America White Power again.
I do hope change comes soon. Kindness and gratitude prevailing over racist bigoted bitter hatred for anyone not a paid up member of the republican christian blind faith clan. And enough with the slavery already.
Fix the Thirteenth Amendment. Section 1.
Because my point is inherent racism and iniquitous prison laws following on from Biblically encouraged slavery, it is worth remembering the role drug laws play in the racist oppression of Blacks in America.
Just 49 years ago today in History:
On this day, 27 October 1970, the Nixon administration passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, as part of their “war on drugs”. A Nixon adviser, John Ehrlichman, later admitted “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Fix the drug laws to stop racially targeting Black people for imprisonment. Or don’t. And keep on locking them up. Leave the guys serving life for selling a dime bag of weed in jail, while white profiteers make rich rewards out of booming Legal Cannabis shares.
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