NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Although slavery was abolished in the United Sates with the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865, some states still contain language allowing for slavery in their own Constitutions.
Tennessee is one of those states.
Article I, Section 33 of the Tennessee Constitution reads, “That slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, are forever prohibited in this state.”
Despite existing in the state’s founding document since 1796, the section has not been enforced since the Civil War era. However, in recent years there has been a push to remove that language from the Constitution entirely, as it still technically allows for slavery and involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime.
Introduced by Democratic State Sen. Raumesh Akbari in 2019, the amendment would replace Section 33 with new language that firmly prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude.
“That slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited,” the proposed language reads. “Nothing in this section shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a crime.”
The measure has seen virtually no opposition since its introduction, as both chambers of the Tennessee legislature passed the resolution unanimously in the 111th and 112th General Assemblies. Further, the Yes on 3 campaign behind the public push for the amendment has seen public support from Democrats and Republicans, the clergy, city leaders and business leaders across Tennessee.
Current and former local, state and federal legislators sat on the advisory board for the campaign, including Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower, former U.S. Senator Bob Corker and Akbari, among many others.
“There is absolutely no place in the world where slavery should exist, and certainly not within the Tennessee State Constitution,” said Rep. Bob Freeman, Co-Chair of the Yes On 3 Advisory Board. “I am honored to work with my Republican and Democratic colleagues who overwhelmingly share the common belief that ‘Words Matter.’ This vote is not about left or right, it’s about right or wrong.”