. . . The 1865 amendment ended slavery, but it also contained a clause that condemned millions of African Americans to a different form of servitude— in a prison system that robbed them of their rights as citizens, writes a former Black Panther. He calls on the 2020 presidential candidates to endorse a campaign to “amend” the amendment.
As enlightened as I thought I was back in the day, I am embarrassed to say I was in a fog and did not have a clue as to how much trouble I was in because of the exception clause.
But we know better now. The campaign to amend the Thirteenth Amendment has been percolating and growing at the grassroots, beginning with a few formerly incarcerated folk, then hundreds, and now thousands.
Our ultimate target is the millions of formerly incarcerated people who are treated like former slaves and, following their emancipation from prison, like second-class citizens. We are collaborating with the civic, private and public sectors to organize an effort that is not just about social justice, but economic justice.
The “exception” clause represents, in essence, an economic detour to a people’s real freedom.
As we head into the 2020 election campaign, several candidates have begun to address criminal justice reform, specifically ways to reduce mass incarceration, which has disproportionately impacted African Americans.
We are challenging them to embrace “Amend the 13th” in order to adjust that narrative from “reform” to “change.”
Amending the Thirteenth, and removing the “exception” clause, would be a good way to signal that the nation is willing to put the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow in the historical dustbin where they belong.
Flores Forbes is Associate Vice President for Strategic Policy & Program Implementation in the Office of Government & Community Affairs at Columbia University. A former senior official in the Black Panther Party, he is the author of Will You Die with Me? My Life and the Black Panther Party (published 2006) and Invisible Men: A Contemporary Slave Narrative in an Era of Mass Incarceration (winner of the 2017 American Book Award). He welcomes comments from readers.