The 13th Amendment

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith tells the story of how we have handled race, slavery, and racism in America through several locations in our nation. Those places tell us how we’ve done and how we’re doing… and why too many white Americans think Black Americans should “get over it” when it comes to slavery and racism. We’re still dealing with issues we think were “settled” after the Civil War.

The 13th Amendment is a good example. It abolished slavery… except for the legal loophole you could plop a plantation into. The Amendment barred involuntary servitude, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

Every part of that sentence is filled with legal loopholes.

For instance, a “crime” could be “loitering.” A Black man or teenager just after the Civil War walking down a road with no money in their pocket and no job (since they had only been enslaved a few months ago and the U.S. hadn’t allowed for what to do with formerly enslaved people) was arrested and convicted of loitering or vagrancy. That was the crime.

In Louisiana, it only took 10 out of 12 to convict. So, they were “duly convicted.”

Stealing a farm animal with a value of $10 was considered “grand larceny” and carried a longer conviction.

This allowed for places like Angola prison to “lease out” prisoners by the hundreds.

“Ancient history,” so many whites will say.

Conviction by majority vote was overturned in 2020… not 1920… 2020. It applies to convictions going all the way back to… 2018.

“Oh, well now they PAY the prisoners.”

Yes. 25 cents an hour.

And the giant loophole in the 13th Amendment is still there.

There is still work to do and it would absolutely amazing if we would acknowledge this history and quit saying, “Well, that’s in the past. What can I do?”

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