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African American's Freedom after The Thirteenth Amendment

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As many of us know who have learned anything about history, life for the African American race was not wonderful during the times of slavery until well after the reconstruction era. The tables were turned against them and they became the working class of the 17th and 18th century for little to no pay. It wasn’t until the Constitution of United States was brought forth in 1789 and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments were put into action around 1864. These amendments were supposed to bring the African American race civil rights like voting, being “free”, being a citizen of the United States and to abolish slavery for good. These amendments did the opposite and it took many years until the blacks were actually capable of building their own lives outside of the slavery era. Congress and the US government were able to find many different ways and tactics around the amendments of the Constitution in order to make sure that blacks had no voice and were not able to take advantage of their god-given rights here in America. These tactics used to suppress the blacks include the black codes, Jim Crow Laws, Grandfather Clause and many more. The freedom they had always desired was given to them and quickly taken away and history tells all.

The Missouri Compromise started it all in an effort to make Missouri a slave state in 1821 and to make half of America free and half slave states. Before this time, slaves were like human nature the America and Missouri had a bone to pick with the US due to them not allowing slaves to be present in that state. At the time of Missouri requesting to become a slave state, the US was divided in half with slave states and free states. Missouri did not want free blacks allowed in the state and this was the only way to prevent that. Ultimately, Missouri was able to become a slave state under the conditions that the rest of the Louisiana Purchase be free (Missouri Compromise).

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With the Thirteenth Amendment going into effect nearly a decade after the US Constitution being published, there were many civil duties which needed to take place in order to guarantee everyone the same rights no matter their race or gender. Slavery had gone on for decades and it was accepted as the norm for that time period, but it was time to put an end to that with the introduction of the 13th Amendment, or so they thought. The Thirteenth Amendment reads “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.” and “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation”. The court explained that they are not opposed to punishing involuntary servitude and that they are trying to prevent the emergence of another era of slavery with this amendment. Therefore, not only was the Thirteenth Amendment put into effect to abolish slavery, but also to abolish involuntary servitude as well, which are two completely different topics (Abolition of Slavery). The amendment actually has a loophole because slavery is much different than involuntary servitude and this leaves much to be desired. It explains that involuntary servitude is allowed but is punishable by law. Since it is allowed and only punishable by law if caught, why not take the risk since the white race is above the African American race in all aspects and has a significantly smaller chance of being punished by prison time anyway. Since involuntary servitude became punishable by law, the prison system became a legalized way to continue slave work with African Americans. States were able to find loopholes in the Thirteenth Amendment and continue the use of involuntary servitude in the prison systems with “convict leasing which resulted in dangerous conditions, abuse, and death. While states profited, prisoners earned no pay and faced inhumane, hazardous, and often deadly work conditions” (Prison Labor). Not all slaves were dark in color, there were many white slaves as well and this amendment was supposed to protect that right to work for pay and to not be kept as property. They were kept as slaves and considered property before this Amendment took place, which left the entire US in shambles because these slave masters would actually have to provide some sort of pay to these “slaves” that they had always had and kept for free under law in the United States before this or get rid of them due to it being illegal now. When passing the Thirteenth Amendment, it was to protect African Americans from the suffering, mental and physical abuse, and awful working conditions that slave masters had put them through. The Thirteenth Amendment was a sad excuse for freedom for the African American race from slavery and the continued use of involuntary servitude in the criminal justice system and behind closed doors explains that in multiple ways.

During the end of the eighteenth century and following the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, black codes and pig laws were introduced and this put the African American race in deep trouble with the penal system. After much hope for freedom for blacks following the passage of the 13th amendment, they were faced with black codes which were set against them and included positive and negative outcomes as everything does. The black codes “allowed African Americans certain rights, such as legalized marriage, ownership of property, and limited access to the courts, but denied them the rights to testify against whites, to serve on juries or in state militias, vote, or start a job without the approval of the previous employer” (Black Codes). Black codes not only harmed the blacks but also prevented them from participating in use of their god-given rights as a citizen of the United States. The black codes also required blacks sign a yearly labor contract and if they did not sign that contract yearly, they would be punished by the criminal justice system with prison time. Being punished with prison time means while they are in prison, they are basically slaves of the US government all over again, and have had their freedom taken away once again. The freedom of free blacks after the civil war and the emergence of these three amendments scared the whites and caused them to act out and try to regain their superiority over the blacks. Nieman explains that “A free black became fair game for the police powers of the state as the white population began a systematic attempt to reestablish their dominance” (Black Southerners and The Law, 303). Niemen goes on to explain that blacks were up for grabs by the penal system because the words used in laws were very vague and doing basically anything was considered acting up in the governments eyes. Blacks could be sentenced to prison time for something as simple as breaking curfew or standing on one spot for too long. The sentence for behaving in any type of way as a black person in that time was prison time or lynching and the result of this was the prisons going from predominantly white filled to mostly black filled. He explains that the main prison in Nashville was only 33 percent black in 1865 and after these quick changes, by 1869 it was over 60 percent black (Black Southerners and The Law, 303). The increase of blacks in the prison system raised more opportunities for the government to enslave these blacks once again and legally.

With more blacks in the prison system, the US government created something called convict leasing. This allowed the penal system to basically rent out the convicts to plantation owners at a small price and they were slaves all over again. This benefitted the government as they were gaining income from these plantation owners yearly and most of them paid over $25,000 per year to have these convicts work for them. Many of these prisoners were leased to railroad companies, plantations, and factories. Browne explains that this form of punishment is modern day slavery back then and that these workers had no idea when they would be released back into freedom (Rooted in Slavery). The working conditions in these environments were horrible and the prisoners were basically their property so of course they were beaten and abused physically and mentally. Browne explains that the death rate of prisoners increased astronomically due to convict leasing and the government did nothing about it, as if it was normal. It is interesting because before blacks were free there was no prison system and instead people who broke the “law” were tortured or in essence sentenced to capital punishment. The prison systems were not created to create equal justice among all races, it was created to remove the free blacks from being free and force them right back into a different form of slavery. Blacks were granted many different rights and their freedom was not necessarily considered freedom in the slightest way.

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African American’s Freedom after The Thirteenth Amendment. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“African American’s Freedom after The Thirteenth Amendment.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
African American’s Freedom after The Thirteenth Amendment. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 11 Dec. 2023].
African American’s Freedom after The Thirteenth Amendment [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2023 Dec 11]. Available from:
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