by Frederick H. Lowe
The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery throughout the United States in 1865 except as punishment for a crime. Fourteen state constitutions still allow slavery as punishment for a crime as part of a compromise to pass the amendment in Congress.
After the Civil War when slavery was abolished, many former slaves were arrested for minor crimes and held in bondage as part of convict-leasing programs. The men and women were paid nothing while they worked for private companies, including United States Steel Corporation. The use of slave labor after the Civil War is detailed in the book “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black American from the Civil War to World II,” by Douglas A. Blackmon.
Slavery as punishment for a crime is still legal under the 13th Amendment in Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin. The list of states is not complete.
Two years ago, a similar amendment that would have eliminated slavery as punishment for a crime failed to pass in Colorado because of confusion over the bill’s language.
Colorado residents must vote yes on Amendment A to close this constitutional loophole. The amendment will change the wording to “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude.”
Though Colorado was not a slave state, large numbers of the Klan lived there. In 1925, Klan members and sponsored candidates controlled the Colorado State House and Senate, the office of Secretary of State, a state Supreme Court judgeship, seven benches on the Denver District Court, as well as city councils in some Colorado towns, according to the Denver Public Library.