Former Chattanooga Mayor and U.S. Senator Bob Corker, in leading a group of elected officials to persuade Tennessee voters to approve a measure that would remove slave language from the state constitution, is following in the Republican footsteps of the first governor. of the state after the civil war.
William G. Brownlow, who took office days before the official end of the Civil War, helped Tennessee become the first former Confederate state to be readmitted to the Union, the first state in the South (and the third in the total) to ratify the 14th Amendment (essentially granting former slaves equal protection of the laws) and the only state in the South to escape the often harsh military rule imposed by Congress.
He also sought to give freedmen the right to vote and helped pass the bill guaranteeing it through the state General Assembly in 1867, two years before the 15th Amendment, which granted black men the right of voting.
Corker’s job is a little simpler.
He and a bipartisan coalition of elected leaders want to amend the Tennessee Constitution, which now reads: “Such slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime, of which the party shall have been duly condemned, shall be forever prohibited by this State.”
The change would remove the words “except as punishment for a crime, the party of which has been duly convicted”. Thus the constitution would then read: “That slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited by this State.”
Simple, correct – what it should be.
The amendment does not remove prison labor programs, job training or community service time that may be awarded as part of a sentence to a person convicted of a felony, and it is supported by the Department of Tennessee Corrections. It simply removes from the constitution a phrase that is essentially slavery by any other name.
November voters who wish to remove the wording must vote “yes” on the amendment. The catch is that the voter must also vote in the gubernatorial race or for a write-in candidate. If a voter does not vote in the gubernatorial race, that person’s vote to get rid of the slavery wording will not count.
To be included in the upcoming ballot, the measure passed as a joint state Senate resolution in 2019 and 2021, as required by law, with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Tennessee would be the fourth state to ratify such an amendment, joining Colorado, Nebraska and Utah in erasing language that remains – one way or another – in the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution.
Corker has already dealt with the issue of slavery – modern slavery.
In 2015, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he and ranking Democrat Robert Menendez, DN.J., introduced legislation to create a collaborative effort with the private sector and foreign governments to help to eliminate forced labor and sexual servitude worldwide. .
“Today more than 27 million people, many of them women and children, are suffering in more than 165 countries around the world, including our own,” Corker said at the time. “As I have seen firsthand, the harsh reality of modern slavery is unconscionable, demanding that the United States and the civilized world commit to ending it for good.”
The bill didn’t receive a full Senate vote in 2015, but the Initiative to End Modern Slavery was eventually passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017.
“By providing strong American leadership and leveraging our limited foreign aid dollars,” Corker said during his visit, “this initiative will work with foreign governments and philanthropic organizations to match funding provided by the United States. Unite and create a coordinated effort to implement best practices to prevent this crime of opportunity from happening.”
The initiative’s progress, it was said at the time, would be tracked against baseline data with the aim of achieving a 50% reduction in slavery. Projects that do not meet the targets would be suspended or cancelled.
To date, the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery — created by the bill — has directly impacted 88,000 lives, according to its website.
Corker, quoted by Tennessee Lookout, referenced the modern slavery bill in accepting the leadership position for “Vote yes on 3”.
“Working with others,” he said, “we have passed legislation to start tackling [modern slavery] more efficiently. I believe it is more than timely to remove any reference to slavery from our state constitution, and I appreciate the work of those leading the effort to do so.”
Corker has more in common with Brownlow – the former governor considered a controversial figure by some historians for his “undemocratic ways” – than with efforts to end slavery. In 1869, the governor was chosen to hold a seat in the United States Senate. It would be the same seat Corker would win 147 years later.
We urge voters to join Corker in ending this remnant of slavery – even if not enforced today – in our constitution.