Michelle Obama proved to be one of Hillary Clinton’s greatest advocates Monday night during her convention speech at the Democratic National Convention. She brought many to tears, rallying her audience around a hopeful message for the future while relaying the story of America’s past.
“The story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what was needed so today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” Obama said.
Railways built by slaves still snake across the United States. In addition to the White House, the U.S. Capitol was also, at least partially, built by slaves. In Colorado, slaves were mostly natives working on farms, but the legacy of slavery still lives on in the state constitution.
This November, voters will have an opportunity to change that.
Amendment T, the “No Slavery, No Exceptions” amendment would change the language of the state’s constitution, which currently says:
“There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
“It sits in my belly as disgusting that we live in a state, in a nation, that would ascribe to slavery under any circumstances,” said Jumoke Emery, a community organizer and advocate for the amendment. “No one is a slave, regardless of mistakes that you have made or crimes you have been convicted of.
“In this country, in the land of the free, no one is a slave, ever, for any reason.”
The language in the Colorado constitution reflects that of the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which also allows for slavery and involuntary servitude as a punishment for those convicted of crimes.
Those who are opposed to Amendment T have raised the concern that it could throw into question the legality of things like court-ordered community service and the state’s prison work programs. Currently, the Colorado Correctional Industries employs more than 1,800 inmate workers.
But the Department of Corrections says that its work programs are not compulsory, and it does not have a position on Amendment T.
Further, about 25 states do not have any mention of slavery in their constitutions. State Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Westminster) was one of three legislative sponsors of the amendment, and hopes Colorado will join the ranks of those states.
“Dozens of states do not have this slavery clause in their constitutions, and their systems of law are still able to fully function,” Sen. Ulibarri said in an email. “We recognize the need to remove this archaic and divisive language from our constitution as an act of racial healing here in Colorado."