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pict_slaveryThe standard narrative regarding slavery in the United States suggests that slavery was legal until a bloody civil war was fought over it, after which the 13th Amendment was passed, which prohibited slavery. But this leaves out one crucial caveat. The 13th Amendment prohibited slavery “except as punishment for a crime.” This allowed slavery to continue under the cover of law.

In the South, this was followed by the passage of the Black Codes, which criminalized a litany of innocuous actions specifically for blacks. According to Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, the Black Codes “established a racial subjugation at least as rigid as the apartheid system developed in South Africa decades later.” These laws heavily restricted economic freedom for black laborers. Hummel notes that “South Carolina forbade them from practicing any profession other than servant or agricultural laborer.” Black “idleness” was criminalized through vagrancy laws. Blacks were also prohibited from owning firearms.

Once blacks were effectively criminalized, it was easy to legally enslave them “as punishment for a crime.” Some Southern states embraced a convict lease system, where prisoners were leased out to private businesses as slave labor. In some respects, this system had even worse incentives than the system of slavery that preceded it. As Angela Davis writes:

Slave owners may have been concerned for the survival of individual slaves, who, after all, represented significant investments. Convicts, on the other hand, were leased not as individuals, but as a group, and they could be worked literally to death without affecting the profitability of a convict crew.

Whereas slave owners would find it costly to replace slaves who died or were otherwise injured, those who leased convicts as slaves would simply have their crew replenished with more enslaved prisoners if those currently working for them died.

Convicts were also forced to work on public works projects. For example, according to Alex Lichtenstein, “[T]he renowned Peachtree Street and the rest of Atlanta’s wellpaved roads and modern transportation infrastructure, which helped cement its place as the commercial hub of the modern South, were originally laid by convicts.”

While the convict lease system no longer exists, coercive prison labor persists. The Louisiana State Penitentiary, better known as “Angola,” was converted from a slave plantation to a prison, and is still used for forced agricultural labor. Sweatshop conditions exist in prisons across the country. Companies like Walmart, AT&T, and Starbucks all profit from this prison labor. So do war profiteers like BAE, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing. The racism of slavery persists; according to the Sentencing Project, 60% of prisoners are people of color, with 1 in 3 black men experiencing imprisonment in their lifetime. America incarcerates on a mass scale, with more than 2.4 million people imprisoned.

The shameful system of chattel slavery that characterized the American South did not simply end with the passage of the 13th Amendment. Instead, slavery changed forms, morphing into a different system of racial control and forced labor that has some similarities to the contemporary system of mass incarceration.


This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page. Like what you read here? You can sign up for a weekly digest of the SFL blog and subscribe for a weekly update on SFL’s events, leadership programs, and resources.

Profit. It’s one one of the most hated concepts in modern society, but why? Sure, profit is selfish in the sense that individuals follow their rational self-interest to reap the fruits of their labor. However, the prosperity that profit brings in turn benefits society as a whole.

This subtle but important concept is fundamental to a free society, yet many students — much less adults — still don’t understand it. That’s why African Students For Liberty teamed up with the Free Market Foundation to produce a short video explaining the benefits of profit in the form of a parable called “The 100th Man”.

“The 100th Man” tells the story of an African village that is burdened by a two-hour uphill walk to fetch water from the nearest river each day. That is, until one entrepreneurial tribesman has the idea to divert part of the river into a small stream flowing downhill to the village. An economy quickly emerges, but it is not without its challenges. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, so I’ll stop there.

Click here to watch the video on YouTube, and pass it along to your liberty-curious friends.  The time has come for the world to relearn the miracle of prosperity that the pursuit of profit have bestowed upon humanity.

Since the first implementation of mandatory minimum sentencing, tens of thousands of citizens have been stripped of their freedom for decades at a time. Though most regard incarcerated peoples as little more than statistics in a government database, each individual who loses 5, 10, 20 or more years of their life for a crime which, in many instances, is non-violent, falsely alleged, or a first time offense, represents a horrific perversion of justice. Let’s look at some victims of mandatory minimums:

  • Algernon Lundy, who maintains his innocence, was given a mandatory sentence of life in prison on crack conspiracy charges. He possessed no criminal record, no drugs or cash were found at his business that prosecutors alleged acted as a cover for large-scale drug distribution, and no drug source or customers were ever identified; one co-defendant testified against him in exchange for a shorter sentence of 20 years, while the other remains at large.
  • In another lamentable case, Brenda Valencia received a 10 year minimum sentence for driving her aunt to a house where, unknown to Valencia, her aunt sold seven kilos of cocaine. A cocaine dealer testified against her in order to avoid the mandatory minimum sentence.
  • After saving over 100 lives, a firefighter named Ciglar served 10 years for marijuana cultivation. Not only was this traumatic for Ciglar’s children, who did not understand why their dad was taken away for so long, but authorities seized his family’s home, creating great financial strain on Ciglar’s wife.

In comparison to the thousands of years served by the 2.5 million American people currently behind bars, 10 years seems little more than a drop in the barrel; however, to the individual forever impacted by the horrors of the criminal justice system—removal from one’s family, loss of freedom to enjoy life’s finer pleasures, a permanent criminal record affecting future employment opportunities, internalized shame, sexual and physical assault—10 years becomes a lifetime. Theoretically, mandatory minimums were enacted to target and deter high-level drug traffickers and eliminate perceived disparities in the prior sentencing system; however only 11% of those federally incarcerated on drug charges can be called “high-level” criminals. Moreover, mandatory minimums denigrate justice by reducing judicial discretion, being applied inconsistently, failing to deter crime, and resulting in disproportionate or excessively severe punishment. (more…)

It’s been over a month since the death of Freddie Gray. For the past few weeks, my newsfeed has been flooded with two lines of rhetoric:

  1. Well if he hadn’t been a criminal, this never would have happened! How dare people disrespect the officers who put their lives on the line every day, they were just doing their job. All this violence isn’t going to solve anything!
  1. But white people riot over sporting events! If that’s OK, surely it’s OK to riot over the pertinent social problem that is police brutality! Cops keep getting away with murder, and no one’s going to do anything about it until the people of Baltimore MAKE people listen. It’s not their fault that the “proper channels” for social discourse have failed them for decades, and rioting is a last resort.

Personally, I think both lines of rhetoric oversimplify the problem because both take collectivist mindsets towards the issue. Many in group 1 want to characterize all cops as good and all victims as bad. Many in group 2 want to characterize all rioters as good and all cops as bad. Both mentalities stem from viewing the world as groups rather than individuals. Not all cops have committed acts of brutality and not all protestors have set a CVS on fire. Refusing to listen to someone who disagrees with you just because some members of their group have committed egregious acts of violence demeans the individual. So instead, it’s time to ask ourselves some tough questions. It’s time to actually consider the possibility that people who disagree with us might make some valid points.Image: Baltimore police officers stand guard outside a CVS pharmacy after it was looted and set blaze in west Baltimore after the funeral of Freddie Gray in Maryland

If you are pro-police, ask yourself: would I have told Rosa Parks to “just obey the law and you won’t have these problems”? And if you consider Rosa Parks fundamentally different from those protesting police violence today, why? Why is the government/police of today magically more infallible than any other government in human history? Why do police get every benefit of the doubt they need without extending equal benefit to Freddie Gray and victims like him? And if police brutality really isn’t that big a deal, why are so many people who live in Baltimore (people who deal with its police force on a daily basis) saying that it is? And no, the fact that black-on-black crime exists isn’t a valid argument. Is it a point worth making? I don’t know, maybe? However, if we use that logic to justify police brutality, can’t we just as easily justify any form of government overreach by pointing to civilian-on-civilian crime? Bad behavior doesn’t make other bad behavior OK. (more…)

11169248_915190525185669_2840004229415131080_nAre you a filmmaker interested in promoting liberty through pop culture? If so, check out these opportunities from Taliesin Nexus, a libertarian group connecting filmmakers with a passion for a free society.

Apollo Filmmakers Workshop

Taliesin Nexus is now accepting applications for the 2015 Apollo Workshop:  Storytelling in Film & TV (previously called The Filmmakers Workshop).  The workshop will take place August 14-16 on the UCLA campus.  Everything is free — free tuition, free room and board, even free travel.  This is a great opportunity for liberty-minded creatives who want a career in movies, TV or new media.  Our stellar faculty of seasoned Hollywood pros deliver practical advice on critical areas like storytelling and career development in an interactive workshop setting.  The deadline for application submission is May 25, 2015Click here for more information and to apply!  Pass this on to a friend, please!

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