Today is June 19, or Juneteenth. While the Emancipation Proclamation was signed on January 1, 1863, slaves in Texas didn’t find out slavery was over until June 19, 1865, hence commemorating this date as the end of legal slavery in the US.
As Phillipe Copeland points out, the prison system was quickly positioned to take the place of slavery through the 13th amendment:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (emphasis mine)
If the architects of the 13th Amendment really wanted to abolish slavery, why make an exception for criminal convictions? Given that slavery at that time was associated in the American imagination with being black, it’s fair to believe its authors had black people in mind when they included this language in the amendment.
This has led to a disturbingly racist reality. While slavery is officially over, our prison system is set up to limit the life possibilities and the take the labor of Black people, people of color more generally, and intersecting groups of marginalized folks. Read More