Slavery Loophole

By Sandra K. Yocum

 Black Orphaned Children and Juvenile Offenders (Library of Congress, 
Prints & Photographs Div.)

The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1865, says “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Democratic state legislatures swiftly passed “Black Codes” in order to achieve a “slavery” loophole that made minimal offenses and petty crimes such as loitering, breaking curfew or vagrancy, cause for arrest and a substantial fine. Blacks could not pay the fines, were transferred to the violent and abusive system known as convict leasing.

Convict leasing was a profitable deal for Southern governments because renting convicts to various private businesses like coal mining, railroads, and logging companies, required the lessees to provide housing, feeding, and clothing to the prisoners.  Also, the leasing of convicts provided generous financial support to the state. In return, plantations and corporations were provided with cheap labor.

 This system of prison labor would continue until the 1940s. 

About the author: Sandra K. Yocum is the Founder/President of the Yocum African-American History Association (YAAHA) that is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the events which shaped the lives and contributions of African-Americans. Information can be found at: