HOW THE 13TH AMENDMENT LAID THE FRAMEWORK FOR SYSTEMIC RACISM AND OPPRESSION

Angela Purnell

13th Amendment

Did you know the Emancipation Proclamation did not actually free all the slaves? Thus the reason for the need of clarification through the 13th Amendment, (ratified in 1865) which states: “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.” To be clear, this amendment did not effectively stop slavery, rather it created a legal loophole for the racist south to continue their inhumane practice of oppression and brutality on black Americans.
White washed history would have you believe that, since the 13th Amendment was an act of Congress, and thus a federal mandate, that slavery was effectively ended and all blacks throughout the entire U.S. were finally free. You don't have to be a legal scholar however to see the glaring loophole “except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted...” One of the many problems facing the south after the abolishment of slavery was trying to figure out how to reconstruct their own lives, cities and structures. They had no clue where to start or even HOW to actually DO much of anything. After all, it was the slaves who did all the work. Not them. So, needless to say, southern whites (being the racist opportunists they were) saw this loophole and ran with it to the fullest extreme. And just like that, if you were black, you went from slave to criminal in just one swipe of a pen.

Usher in the brutally racist practice of prisoner leasing or convict leasing. What is “prisoner leasing”? I'm glad you asked. We never did learn about it in school after all. Prisoner leasing was nothing more than slavery by a different term. According to Wikipedia, Convict leasing is described as: a system of forced penal labor historically practiced in the Southern United States that overwhelmingly targeted African-American men.
In 1868 Georgia began a prisoner leasing program, followed shortly after by Alabama, and by the 1870's there were prisoner leasing programs all throughout the south. No matter the crime, even a misdemeanor, you were free game to be leased to plantation owners, Railroad companies, and anyone else willing to pay a small fee and take responsibilty for housing and food of said prisoners. Imagine getting charged with something as small as jaywalking, then being leased out to work ungodly hours of forced manual labor with no medical care, little to no food, being beaten and/or flogged on a regular basis, and housed in quarters unfit for even an animal to be kept in. Imagine getting arrested for a minor crime and dying in prison because of it.

If you are white, this seems absurd. If you are black, it is not a far-fetched reality. As a matter of fact, is a very common every day fear for black Americans. The fear of being arrested and being killed before you can even be formally charged, at the hand of “well trained, professional officers upholding the law.” You know, “good ole boys”. Sound crazy? George Floyd, Sandra Bland and Philando Castile. Just to name a few in recent history who did NOT survive their run in with police. We have all seen this far too many times. Especially in Trumps America, but I digress.
Back to the slavery loophole...I mean, 13th Amendment.

Eventually, the North intervened and prisoner leasing was abolished. That does not mean the inhumane treatment stopped. Again, it just took on another form. Welcome to the “chain gang” era and the mass incarceration of black men continued, of course. At this point, their criminalization has become a well paid commodity. By now, black men had been further demonized. False rhetoric and propaganda spread all over, thanks to the United Daughter of the Confederacy and their desperate attempt to save what even they defined as “The Lost Cause”, and of course, good old-fashioned blatant racism.
Keep in mind that the second article of the 13th Amendment stated: “Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation”, and just like that – there are 2 justice systems. One for white America, and one for pretty much anyone else, especially if you're black. Racist law after racist law was enacted and enforced with vigor. You see, the 13th Amendment may have “ended slavery” but it never defined what “freedom” actually meant for the now “freed” slaves. If it had, we would not have needed the 14th and 15th Amendment, or The Civil Rights Act of 1865 (which was vetoed 8 years later by Congress), or The Civil Rights Act of 1965, nor would we be in the middle of ANOTHER Civil Rights Movement right now in 2020.

It is also important to note that you do not have to be dark-skinned in order to be racially discriminated against. To racist whites, just one drop of black blood makes you black. The only time this was ever argued was when Barack Obama ran for President (and even after he won, BOTH times). People argued he wasn't black because his mother was white. Interesting. Now, had Obama been charged with a crime, there would have been no question about how black he was. In the system, he would have been just another black man. In 1892, Plessy V. Ferguson was an interesting case concerning this same issue. Homer Plessy was a man who was 7/8 white and 1/8 African descent. He argued that the Separate Car Act violated the 13th and 14th Amendment. This act ensured the segregation of cars. Plessy had to ride in the car with the black riders. It went to the Supreme Court. In the end, SCOTUS ruled that there was no violation as no indentured servitude (i.e. slavery) was taking place as stated in the 13th amendment. As for the 14th amendment, Judge Henry Billings- Brown wrote on behalf of the SCOTUS; “If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States can not put them on the same plane.” Brown argued that the Supreme Court Act was intended to preserve “public peace and good order” and was therefore a “reasonable” exercise of the legislature's “police power”. The fact that he was 7/8 white, meant nothing. He was still 1/8 African descent, and thereby seen as an inferior human being. Even though slaves were “free”, there was nothing to protect their social or financial status. They were oppressed solely because they were black.

The 13th amendment was never designed to protect black Americans from slavery. It was specifically written to protect racist whites and a radically oppressive system from ever having to effectively end the barbaric and inhumane practice of slavery itself. Just like a narcissistic abusive partner attacks and blames the victim, so our system continues to terrorize, attack and blame black Americans to this very day. And they wonder why there are protests and riots. Our black brothers and sisters deserve better. We as a nation need to rally around them in support and fight with everything we have to dismantle this racially oppressive system, provide adequate and proper reparations, and evolve past this ridiculous narrative that any race is superior to the other.
#BLACKLIVESMATTER

https://gettysburgcompiler.org/2016/12/12/the-unknown-legacy-of-the-13th-amendment/

https://www.aaihs.org/demystifying-the-13th-amendment-and-its-impact-on-mass-incarceration/

https://www.britannica.com/event/Plessy-v-Ferguson-1896#ref1077317

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convict_leasing#:~:text=Convict%20leasing%20was%20a%20system,been%20instituted%20in%20western%20states. 

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