When slavery was abolished over a century ago, America was ready to leave that harrowing part of its history behind for good.
But in Minnesota – and multiple other states -- slavery is technically still a part of their constitution. Lawmakers introduced an amendment on Thursday which would remove a clause from Minnesota’s constitution that allows slavery to be used as a punishment for crimes.
The bill of rights in the 1857 Minnesota Constitution states that: “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.”
Minnesota Rep. John Lesch is the chief author of the amendment, which will receive a hearing in the house judiciary committee on Tuesday.
Lesch represents the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, a center-left political party in the U.S. state of Minnesota. It is affiliated with the Democratic Party.
“It’s inappropriate that language mentioning slavery still exists in our constitution, even if’s narrowly constructed and, some would say, obsolete,” Lesch said during Thursday’s news conference. “While we’ve undoubtedly made progress in expanding civil rights, racial bias remains persistent in our state and we see the effects of that in the news every day.”
The effort was inspired by St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell who first made a Facebook post on December 31 announcing that it was his new year’s resolution to “ignite a movement” to remove slavery from the Minnesota state constitution.
“It’s important that the constitution reflects our Minnesota values,” Axtell said during the conference. “This isn’t a St. Paul thing. This isn’t a Minneapolis thing. This isn’t a metro thing. This is a state thing. It’s important that this wording is removed.”
Minnesota Democratic Rep. Rena Moran, who co-authored the amendment and is the great-great-granddaughter of slaves, said the state’s constitution must eliminate language which permits any form of slavery.
“Black Americans still carry multi-generational trauma from that dark period in our nation’s early history,” Moran said. “Make no mistake, this amendment won’t solve every problem that African Americans still face. It will, however, provide a pathway helping to heal century-old wounds.”
In 1865, the federal government abolished almost all forms of slavery, but the 13th Amendment allowed for one exception: When the opportunity of servitude was punishment for a crime.
Colorado changed the language of their state’s constitution to abolish all forms of slavery in 2018.