Yesterday was Juneteenth, a holiday to celebrate the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. Unfortunately, based on news articles and social media posts, many if not most people are under the mistaken belief that Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States.
The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t end slavery in the United States (and the anti-slavery laws and Thirteenth Amendment that followed), it changed the rules of slavery. Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation people of African descent could be owned by private individuals in specific states. While the Emancipation Proclamation prohibited that practice, it didn’t prevent all forms of slavery.
In the post Emancipation Proclamation United States whether one can be a slave is no longer determined by skin color and whether one can own slaves is no longer determined by the state in which they reside. Instead whether one can be a slave is determined by criminality and the only legal slave owners are the federal and state governments and their contractors.
Yes, this post is yet another one of my rants about the existence of Federal Prison Industries, also known as UNICOR, state level versions of UNICOR such as MINNCOR, and government contracted private prisons. All of these organizations utilize slave labor, but many people seem to be willing to ignore this fact because the slaves are criminals. But I will again remind you that the legal system in the United States is so convoluted that the label criminal is effectively arbitrary. Back in 2011 the book Three Felonies a Day was published. The book pointed out that working professionals in the United States unknowingly commit an average of three felonies per day. The only reason they aren’t all criminals is because the state either hasn’t caught them or hasn’t enforced its laws against them. But if the state doesn’t like somebody it can chose to investigate them and enforce any of its numerous laws against them and thus make them a criminal.
So when you see news anchors, politicians, and celebrities celebrating an end to slavery, remember that slavery is still alive and well in the United States. The rules may have changed, but the practice never ended.