It might come as a surprise, but the Colorado legislature unanimously approved a measure in this year’s session. Yes, approved by every single member.
Amendment T, which would strike from the state constitution an exception to Colorado’s ban on slavery, sailed through the General Assembly. The exception, in Article II, Section 26, reads: “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” It was written in 1876.
One hundred and forty years later, state lawmakers voted to excise from the constitution the notion that slavery or involuntary servitude would be acceptable under any circumstances in Colorado. The amended language would end that particular passage at the word “servitude.”
Next step? Getting the go-ahead to amend the constitution from voters in November. The campaign to do just that kicked off Tuesday morning on the western steps of the state capitol. The multi-faith organizing group Together Colorado, and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers gathered to celebrate the amendment’s success in the legislature and gear up for “Yes on T” drive.
State Rep. Jovan Melton, a Democrat from Aurora and sponsor of the bill, said the exception simply didn’t track with Colorado beliefs. “We all know that slavery is wrong in any and all forms,” Melton said. “So why do we have an exception in our constitution? It just doesn’t make sense to the people of Colorado.”
The exception has been used in the past to justify unpaid labor by prisoners and to hold individuals without due process, Together Colorado says.
But Tuesday’s rally focused primarily on the symbolic value of removing the exception. Will Dickerson, lead organizer of Together Colorado, told The Independent that the issue is personal for him. His father was the great-grandson of a slave and “it hurt him. It hurt him to know that there was still this exception. So I’m doing this for him and I’m doing it for me.”
“Words matter to all of us in Colorado,” Melton told the gathering of about 100 people.
The former includes a line that reads, “And before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave”. Rep. Kent Lambert, a Republican from Colorado Springs, echoed that sentiment, declaring, “Any mention of slavery in the Colorado constitution deserves to be buried in its grave.”
The Yes on T campaign is officially supported by Together Colorado and the Greater Denver Ministerial Alliance. No groups have opposed it.
Photo Credit: Eliza Carter