Slavery is an evil that has loomed over our nation since its founding. Its racist legacy — carried through Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, and police brutality — continues to threaten the lives of Black people, and other people of color.
Passed in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is celebrated for abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude. However, to the surprise of many, the Thirteenth Amendment includes an exception clause that has been understood throughout history to allow slavery and involuntary servitude to be used as punishment for crime. During Reconstruction, this understanding encouraged the criminalization, incarceration, and re-enslavement of Black people.
Still today, more than 150 years later, people who are incarcerated and detained across our country are disproportionately Black and brown and forced to work for little to no pay under the threat of additional punitive measures, such as the loss of family visits and solitary confinement.
It’s time to unequivocally make the evils of slavery and involuntary servitude history, once and for all. We must pass the Abolition Amendment — introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (OR) and Representative Nikema Williams (GA-05) — to end the exception!