Slavery by Another Name has left me dumb-founded. It is striking, the legacy that the convict lease system has left on our collective psyche. The convict lease system (active in various forms from 1870 to the 1940s) was where a black man could be arrested for loitering in the morning, then rented out to private industry as prison labor by evening. It was the genesis of this notion that black=criminal.
With such easy profitability, the practice flourished. Within a few decades, the public came to realize that a disproportionate % of prisoners were black, and concluded, wrongly, that black people were inherently criminal. Out of that was born insane racial attitudes.
Had the federal government not ceded to states rights after reconstruction, had the13th amendment been worded more succinctly, how would our country be different now? The 13th amendment had banned slavery outright, however, it allowed for servitude as punishment for a crime. This language is what allowed the southern states to capitalize off of slave labor, imprisoning people for non-crimes such as loitering, then renting them out by the month.
The 13th amendment reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The fact that racism lingers to this day is disheartening. Especially so, since I would guess most of us don’t truly understand its origins. Incredible how one small sentence in an amendment could allow for so much injustice to go on for so so long.