Thank God for the 13th Amendment! A noble gesture to free the slaves in America. After its ratification, no longer was it legal to enslave human beings to toil unmercifully on the plantations of the southern slave owners. No longer was it permissible to consider another man, woman, and their offspring, property. The 13th Amendment stands today as it was written back on December 6th, 1865. The 13th amendment was a critical milestone, reflective of the compassion and tolerance of our fellow countrymen of that era. Our country was almost 100 years old when it passed and marked the end of the Civil War. Finally, negroes all over America could feast on the banquet of freedom. Or could they? Why would I question such a noble change to our constitution? The answer lies in the very language of the document.
This amendment stands to be one of the most significant changes ever added to the American Constitution with one exception...
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except..."
Why would I question the exception in the language in this amendment? While I am not particularly fond of criminals, I'm not sure that at the time of the drafting of this amendment, this exception was in good faith. Immediately after the ratification, convictions, and incarcerations of young African Americans increased sharply and continued to skyrocket into the 1920s according to the data. This observation leads me to question the reasoning for these incarcerations. Either a large number of newly freed slaves, overnight, began to lead a life of crime, or being black, suddenly became a criminal offense. I subscribe to the latter.
Above is a study of archival convict records from Georgia that shows the sharp rise in black inmates after the civil war and after the ratification of the 13 Amendment. Data unavailable for some years. Data source: Barry Godfrey, University of Liverpool
Wrongful ConvictionsThe practice of incarcerating African Americans disproportionally continues today. According to Samuel R. Gross, “African Americans are only 13% of the American population but a majority of innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes were later exonerated. They constitute 47% of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations (as of October 2016), and the great majority of more than 1,800 additional innocent defendants who were framed and convicted of crimes in 15 large-scale police scandals and later cleared in “group exonerations.” We see this racial disparity for all major crime categories, but we examine it in this report in the context of the three types of crime that produce the largest numbers of exonerations in the Registry: murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes. “
Source: NATIONAL REGISTRY OF EXONERATIONS NEWKIRK CENTER FOR SCIENCE AND SOCIETY UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA IRVINE
Numbers don’t Lie
Now back to the Thirteenth Amendment. the data in the article you are reading clearly reflects the disparities in the demographics of the prison population as it relates to race. The exception in the 13th Amendment, in effect, does not completely abolish slavery in America. According to the data, this Constitutional exception continues to allow black slavery in America for the most part. To further exacerbate this issue, data shows Fortune 500 companies and others exploit this loophole and participate heavily in cheap prison labor making a large percentage of black Americans and others in our country, legal slaves.
Sadly, incarceration has become big business in the United States. Prisons are being built, operated, and profited from, by private companies and corporations at a staggering rate. The more incarcerations, the more profit. Not only do they charge states and municipalities to house inmates at these heartbreak hotels, they also sell inmate labor to other corporations at very competitive rates. Is there any wonder why the US has the largest prison population in the world?
Was the exception in the 13th Amendment intentionally drafted to continue black slavery in America? Or was this exception just exploited as a loophole in the law after ratification? To answer this question, we would have to examine the hearts of the drafters. Since that is not possible, we have to rely on the data. The rise of convictions and incarcerations of African Americans began immediately after the ratification, suggesting pre-meditation or collusion with current factions, racist lawmakers, and judges of the era. On the other hand, it could have been purely innocent short-sightedness. Since the crystal ball had not been invented yet, short-sightedness is possible, but not probable, in my opinion. Either way, the 13th Amendment has an obvious flaw, and Americans (largely blacks) are paying for it with the very thing the amendment purports to grant… their freedom.