This title will elicit a response such as:
"Check the 13th Amendment."
But seriously, after thinking about it, slavery, as far as the US is concerned, is not over. If one looks at slavery in it's historical context rather than the general "common understanding" of the institution, then it becomes very clear. And no, I'm not talking about the mental slavery as discussed by our Egun (Ancestor) Asa Hilliard, in his forward to Stolen Legacy. I am talking actual physical slavery AND the means by which slaves were gotten.
I was prompted to write this due to an article I saw on Alternet in which they stated quite boldly that slavery was not dead. I started reading the article and discovered that it was discussing immigrant labour. It dawned on me that people really don't quite get what slavery is.
In any case here's the deal. Contrary to popular belief most Africans that got here via the trans-Atlantic trade were not kidnapped by Europeans. While Europeans did play a central role in instigating or taking advantage of certain situations, the primary means of getting "saleable goods" were other Africans. By and large the individuals sold were prisoners of war or criminals. In those societies, pow's and criminals were not locked away in some building they were put to work for the war's winner or the society that was wronged by the criminal. So involuntary servitude was an expected consequence of losing a war or committing a crime.
Europeans, upon their arrival added a crucial difference in this arrangement. Firstly, they introduced new means of warfare and introduced new "prizes" for war booty. The why's and wherefores are not relevant here. What is relevant is that the societies in question were perfectly willing to use involuntary servitude as a means of punishment or what-have-you. Therefore; it is entirely accurate to say that the trans-atlantic slave trade was in part an extension of the same familiar policy. Indeed the Scholor Ahmed Baba had no qualms about slavery as an institution.
Many people point out that the concept of chattel or human as property was unique to American slavery, I'm not too convinced of this. Sure it may have been unique in terms of Anglo legal framework, but I find it particularly hard to believe that no other society thought you could sell people designated as slaves to anyone else or be put to death on the whim of that individual's owner. In any case it is not relevant. What is relevant is that slavery starts out as involuntary servitude by being designated a societal "ousider" and continues in America by being designated a social "outsider".
So then how is slavery not dead? Well The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution clearly states:
Section 1. 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.
You'll note that involuntary servitude, that is, slavery continues to be legal for punishment for crimes. So in essence what the 13th Amendment actually did was outlaw inter-generational slavery. A person could not inherit the status of slave simply by being born to a slave. So follow the line:
A) Africans are put into involuntary servitude by being prisoners of war or committing a crime.
B) having gained that status they are sold to Europeans who take them to America.
C) Their involuntary servitude status remains.
D) The 13th Amendment ends intergenerational slavery, but does not end slavery as an institution.
After the end of the Civil War we find that blacks are jailed for various, as Rudy Giuliani would put it, "quality of life" crimes such as loitering, etc. Various black codes and laws are passed in order to criminalize black people's behavior. This criminalization of black behavior, or creating an environment where criminal behavior among blacks is encouraged, allows continued legal involuntary servitude of blacks.
Once we stop focusing on tobacco fields and cotton fields, and see slavery as economic situation that benefits the "property owners" economically, then we understand how the prison system is the modern day plantation. Prison systems are an important economic system in America, a country with the highest per capita inmate population in the world. Prisons provide cheap, involuntary labour for various corporations. Even more though, is that in many places these prisons are in towns where they are huge employers. In some towns the removal of a prison would bankrupt the entire municipality. Crime is big business. States that are completely unwilling to put money into public school systems are willing to spend thousands a year to lock up a single individual.
Some will say that the presence of "free" blacks negates this idea. Not so. Again, if we look back at the history, the POW's and criminals placed into involuntary servitude were surrounded by free people. The presence of free people does not negate the presence of slavery. Indeed every free person is liable to become a slave today, just as it was then.