Available soon: Be Frank 4 Justice Merchandise
Available soon: Be Frank 4 Justice Merchandise
The 13th amendment of the U.S Constitution, ratified on December 6th, 1865, abolished slavery— in part. The language contained a loophole allowing the enslavement of those convicted of a crime. This exception facilitated a transfer of ownership from private (people) to state (prisons) ownership.
In order to work to eradicate slavery, we must boldy name it so that its' characteristics, past to present may clearly be defined. According to the Bellagio-Harvard Legal Parameters of Slavery, the legal definition of slavery is found at Article 1(1) of the 1926 Slavery Convention, and reads: “Slavery is the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.”
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.
Prior to the loophole in the 13th amendment, Texas was given special consideration by Mexico to keep slaves. Vicente Guerrero abolished slavery in Mexico in 1829, but it did not apply to Texas settlers, because Anglos felt that slaves were necessary for the upkeep of the cotton harvest. Mexico's position on slavery threatened the future of the Texas economy, thus slavery, though not the primary reason for the Texas Revolution, was clearly a catalyst.
BLACK CODES--In 1865, post Civil War, a series of laws called Black Codes were passed in Southern states that required all black people to sign an annual contract to work for White employers. In Texas, and across the South, Black Codes reaffirmed white supremacy and regulated the labor of black people. If they refused to sign the contract or did not fulfill it’s requirements, they would be fined or imprisoned. The effort of Black Codes were halted by the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. It required states to respect basic fundamental rights, of Black people, including those to life and personal security. This led to the creation of more laws in local courts, such as vagrancy laws to leverage the economic power of the Black labor pool.
VAGRANCY LAWS--Like Black Codes, Vagrancy Laws criminalized unemployment, allowing harsh punishment for petty offenses and minor crimes. Under these law, courts could arrest people whom they defined as “idle”—appearing homeless or without proof of empoyment— fine them, and contract their labor if they could not pay the fine. In addition, courts had the power to put those people to work doing any type of labor power to settle their debt.
CONVICT LEASING--Convict leasing was a system in which states leased incarcerated individuals-and sometime the prisons themselves-to private individuals to fulfill labor contracts. In 1867, Texas got its' for leases to help build rairoads, but those confined could be tasked to do any type of labor at the discretion of the lessee. A publication by the San Antonio Express, which highlighted corruption and mismanagement of the prisons, including overcrowding, deplorable living conditions, and neglect of workers led to public outcry for change. As a result, all leases were terminated in 1912.
During the regular 87th legislative session in Texas, HJR 51, the Abolition Bill, was authored by Representative Alma Allen and co-authored by Representative Ron Reynolds and a companion bill, SJR 66, filed in the Senate by Senator Borris Miles. The bill proposed to amend the state constition to prohibit slavery even as punishment for a crime. While HJR 51 did not successfully pass through the legislature, there have been many publications across the state highlighting the issue of penal slavery serving to educate Texas citizens about the practice of modern day slavery in the prison system.
Be Frank 4 Justice is gearing up to strengthen our coalition of individuals and organizations committed to ending slavery for all. If you or your organization would like to support this movement, please leave a comment.
The End the Exception campaign, to repeal the 13th amendment of the U.S. consitution and remove the exception clause was launched by the Abolish Slavery National Network in June of 2021. The Abolition Amendment — introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (OR) and Representative Nikema Williams (GA-05) — to end the exception!
Savannah Eldrige, Coalition to Abolish Slavery-Texas co-founder and Be Frank 4 Justice founder reviews Texas' Abolition Bill
Rep. Alma Allen sits down with C.A.S.T. to speak about Texas' Abolition Bill.
The exception made the 13th amendment more palatable to southern states. Many states simply echo the same language in their state constitutions, or say nothing, allowing the 13th Amendment exception to stand.
The Texas Constitution currently does not include language related to slavery, and defers to the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The exception in the 13th amendment allows actual slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States, as long as it can be described as a punishment for crime. This is morally wrong. It should be noted that:
Abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude will provide constitutional backing for addressing and preventing slavery and slave-like conditions in any circumstances where they occur.
Changing the Constitution does not immediately create or eliminate state or federal laws, but it provides a new context for changes in law.
Words matter. Our constitution is our most important moral and legal institutional document. It is the foundation of our society’s principles and laws. It should reflect our true values. Removing this exception for slavery sends a powerful message that we all are indeed “created equal” under the constitution.
Prison labor in the state of Texas generates over 70 million dollars annually from unpaid work. Texas is one of five states in which incarcerated worker earn no wages for regular jobs.
Call to Action from U.S. Senator Merkley (OH)
Documentary directed by Ava Duvernay highlighting mass incarceration in the United States
Documentary based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Douglas Blackmon that tells the story of forced labor post Civil War
Weekly discussion of slavery abolition, from education to activism. Tune in on Sundays for updates