Vantage Point Vignettes
Comments and Commentaries by Dr. Ron Daniels
Eradicating the “Badges and Incidents” of Slavery
2015 marks the 150th Anniversary of the adoption of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. The Amendment officially abolished slavery, completing a process begun with the “partial” Emancipation Proclamation which only “freed” enslaved Africans in those states that were at war with the Union. It would be the first of three Reconstruction Amendments which would abolish slavery, establish citizenship and grant the right to vote to the formerly enslaved Africans. The 13th Amendment is also noteworthy because of the pledge to “eradicate the badges and indications of slavery.” President Obama and members of Congress hailed the Amendment as one of the great achievements of racial justice at a ceremony in the nation’s Capital.
It is important to remember that while the 13th Amendment should appropriately be heralded as a milestone measure addressing the injustices of centuries of brutal bondage and exploitation of the free labor of Africans, it was a partial, an incomplete proposition. Like the Emancipation Proclamation, this Amendment contained a major exception. It applied “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” In addition, none of the Reconstruction Amendments offered a formal apology for chattel slavery nor provided compensation to its victims. As a consequence, millions of formerly enslaved Africans were “freed” and granted political rights without social rights. The newly emancipated Africans were not provided with “forty acres and a mule,” capital or an endowment to survive, thrive and compete within a Capitalist economy, incredibly enriched by centuries of free Black labor. No reparations were provided to repair the horrific damages inflicted on Africans by chattel slavery.
It was a cruel “emancipation” that left millions of Africans in a state of peonage, a kind of neo-slavery as sharecroppers, tenant farmers and agricultural laborers, in many instances trapped on the same plantations they had worked prior to being granted “freedom.” Those who did not return to the plantations were often victimized by “vagrancy laws” adopted to criminalize the unattached and unemployed “freedmen.” These “vagrants” were fed into the infamous convict-lease system, a collusion between prisons and private sector interests which involved hiring out convicts (mostly Blacks) to plantations and private businesses to profit from their free labor…again.
This arrangement was readily justifiable under the “exception” incorporated into the 13th Amendment. In the meantime, under the protection of their “Radical Republican” benefactors, Blacks could vote in the South, run for and hold elective offices. But, it was a highly dependent political freedom. This perilous situation would end with the Compromise of 1877 when the Republicans abandoned their Black dependents in order to retain the presidency. All federal troops were withdrawn from the South leaving Blacks vulnerable to the vicious and often violent whims of vengeful Whites.
The bottom line is that 150 years after the adoption of the 13th Amendment, the “badges and incidents” of slavery have not been eradicated. The persistent “wealth gap” between Blacks and Whites, chronic underdevelopment in distressed Black communities and mass incarceration are clear testimonies to the inability of Black America to overcome the intergenerational deficits of enslavement and post-emancipation discriminatory policies and practices. Accordingly, Africans in America must compel this nation to face the reality that reparations are imperative to eradicate the “badges and incidents of slavery” if there is to be justice, peace, reconciliation and a “more perfect union” in this land!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com. His weekly radio show, Vantage Point can be heard Mondays 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon on WBAI, 99.5 FM, Pacifica in New York or streaming live via WBAI.org. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at email@example.com