Film & Theme
Equality under the Law: Slavery by Another Name
In 1865, the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment constitutionally outlawed slavery, and African American looked forward to what they would make of their new-found freedom. The subsequent ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment established the citizenship of all freed peoples and with it, equal protection under the law. Yet, for thousands of black men and women in the post-Civil War South, it was a different story.
In this clip you will see how after Reconstruction, Southern lawmakers enacted “Black Codes” and “Jim Crow” laws that denied blacks the privileges and immunities enjoyed by U.S. citizens. New forms of coerced labor emerged that would endure well into the 1940s. Many Southern states soon began renting out prisoners to commercial enterprises for a fee, erecting a convict lease system that was highly profitable. A system known as “peonage” (debt servitude) also emerged enabling employers to force laborers to pay off a debt with more work. Ironically, it was a loophole in the Thirteenth Amendment declaring involuntary servitude illegal except as a punishment for a crime that made this system possible. This history of convict labor in the South reminds us of the limitations of equality under the law.
Slavery by Another Name. 14:40–19:05
Questions for class discussion
- How did the widespread destruction of the Southern economy and emancipation turn the South “upside down”?
- How did crime and punishment after Reconstruction change radically for African Americans?
- How did the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery, also serve to create “slavery by another name”?
- How did convict leasing serve to rebuild the Southern economy after the Civil War?
Background Articles for Teachers
- The Battle Over Reconstruction
- The Supreme Court and the Fourteenth Amendment
- Travels through Time: The Impact of Supreme Court Decisions on Struggle for African American Equality
- Sharecropper Contract (1867)
- “The Fifteenth Amendment, Celebrated” (1870)
- Address by Hon. Frederick Douglass, delivered in the Congregational Church, Washington, D.C., April 16, 1883 : on the twenty-first anniversary of emancipation, in the District of Columbia