NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The effort to remove slavery as a form of punishment in the Tennessee Constitution moves to the hands of voters this fall.
It’s an effort that’s been ongoing for about the last decade.
In 2012, Jeannie Alexander was working as a chaplain at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville. That’s where she met an inmate who inspired her to help amend Tennessee’s Constitution.
“He was the person who educated me to the fact that in fact the 13th amendment had not abolished slavery in this country, nor had the state constitution. What they did was create an exception,” Alexander said.
Right now, the Tennessee Constitution says “that slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, are forever prohibited by this State.”
Theda Murphy and Jeannie Alexander with United Tennessee are working to change that wording and put an end to all forms of slavery in the state.
In 2021, state lawmakers passed a joint resolution removing that language and adding, “slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a crime.”
“Politics is extremely polarizing in this state, in the entire country. But this was not polarizing. It passed overwhelmingly through two sessions in the General Assembly because it’s so obvious. Everyone we talk to about this is like this is so obvious this should never be in our constitution,” Alexander said.
The final decision now lies in the hands of Tennessee voters this November under Amendment 3.
“We need to be the country we actually profess to be, we actually need to put the values that we say we have into practice and into place with no exceptions at all,” Murphy said.
“Amendment 3 changes everything in my opinion for people who are in prison and people who are on parole because now we have to be seen as equals,” Rahim Buford, Executive Director of Unheard Voices, said.
Murphy says in order to vote on Amendment 3 this November you must also cast a ballot for the Tennessee Governor’s race.