Saturday, February 02, 2008

Tote That Barge, Lift That Bale

It was this week in 1865 that the U.S. legislature passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery. Three-quarters of the states ratified it before the end of the year, making the Amendment official, though, just for the record, Kentucky didn't ratify the Thirteenth Amendment until 1976 and Mississippi never has.

If you notice the Amendment's wording, however, you realize that the way to get around it was written right into the Amendment itself:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a
punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly
, shall exist within the United States, or any place
subject to their jurisdiction.

Any state that wanted to take advantage of this codicil, as it were -- whether Northern or Southern -- could by simply arresting and incarcerating African-American males who were now, of course, "free" men. This was hardly difficult to do if you just shut them out of the job market and then implement Jim Crow laws that could lock them up for such infractions as not stepping off the sidewalk when a White person walks by.

Now that corporations have stepped into the picture, it's not likely that this game plan is going to be abandoned anytime soon. CorpWatch paints a graphic picture of how insidious and well developed the prison industrial complex is today.

And lest we imagine that African-Americans are the only people of color to suffer under the lash (literally and currently), despite the Thirteenth Amendment, check out this story from Nezua Limon Xolagrafik-jonez, The Unapologetic Mexican.

Or how about this story concerning the Louisiana sheriff who forced prisoners to work in a
stolen vehicle "chop shop" and serve as a pit crew for his hot rod?

What to do about all this? You can look into Free the Slaves or Not For Sale or Ten Students or Critical Resistance -- all of which are organizations working in one way or another to eliminate what the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution supposedly addressed more than 140 years ago.


Rent Party said...

Amazing it is as widespread as it is, and as little discussed.

Changeseeker said...

Amazing, yes, and disheartening. Using the word "trafficking" instead of "slavery" is partly how the discussion is kept on the down low.

Kevin said...

Hi Changeseeker, Thanks for a great post. Let me point out that on our website ( you can watch some great short films about modern slavery, including one on slavery in the USA today. I see that you are a college prof - may I send you my two books - Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, and Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves? Both are being used extensively in college classes, and you might find them useful. And while modern slavery is disheartening, the good news is that we can end it in our lifetime. Ending Slavery explains how we do that.

All best wishes,
Kevin Bales

PS I also love Elmore Leonard, I would do almost anything to be able to write dialogue like that.