The following commentary was made possible through a partnership with Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.
As a resident of the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and “Minnesota Nice,” it’s very rewarding to know that some of my fellow Minnesotans are also tired of the outdated language in the state’s Constitution.
In the first sentence of the state Constitution that ushered Minnesota into statehood in 1858, Article I, section 2: ”There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.”
Minnesota wasn’t a slave state. So why did the newly created territory of Minnesota decide to adopt the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which read: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime wherefore the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The truth is that the people who controlled this territory were very White and very unapologetic in their divine destiny to conquer and rule people of color. It’s fair to say that was then. Today, however, as Americans and Minnesotans, we live in a post-Reconstruction world, as people willing to make courageous decisions. And one of those decisions is to strike the constitutional language of enslavement that still applies to those who are convicted of a crime.
As an independent state with Indigenous and other people of color living here, it is past time to do what some of our sister states have done and change the Constitution. For example, states like Nebraska and Colorado have removed the reference to slavery, under any circumstances, from their constitutions. Now it’s our turn.
Even former St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtwell wrote, “It is beyond time to move forward together and strike out slavery from our shared constitution.”
During this 93rd legislative session (2023-2024), from now until May 22, we can strike slavery from the Minnesota Constitution by supporting HF 93 legislation, a proposed amendment introduced by Representative Dave Pinto (DFL 64B), which would prohibit slavery or involuntary servitude as criminal punishment for a crime. If passed, the amendment to the state Constitution would appear on the 2024 general election ballot.
I agree with the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall that “the Constitution is a continuously changing document.” As such, the people of the state of Minnesota can finally dispel the vestiges of America’s original sin.
Carlos O. Smith is at Moose Lake, a medium-security facility.
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Why change it. Not exactly sure how it’s offensive. I mean don’t we have bigger issues in our state than a non offensive opening to our states constitution? Seriously infrastructure, or high taxes that are getting g higher even with a surplus. This seems more a non-issue then anything. My opinion of course