“Words matter”: The great-granddaughter of a slave on what Amendment T means to her

This year, Colorado ballots contain a measure called Amendment T. Coverage of this amendment has paled in comparison to other issues, in part because it is uncontroversial and has no formal opposition. Amendment T would remove a clause in Colorado’s constitution that provides an exception to the state prohibition of slavery.

Written in 1876, the state founding document currently 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.” Amendment T would remove the exception, cutting everything after the word “servitude.”

For most, passing Amendment T seems like a no-brainer. That includes every member of Colorado’s legislature: Every single member of the General Assembly agreed to refer Amendment T to the ballot in a rare unanimous vote.

Amendment T may not be controversial, but it nonetheless carries profound meaning for many Coloradans. The Colorado Independent chatted with Lee McNeil, a Denver resident who has a personal connection to the issue, about what the ballot measure means to her.

CI: Why is Amendment T meaningful to you?

LM: I am a great-granddaughter of a slave. My maternal grandfather was the son of a slave. My great-grandmother was shipped over to Virginia, and I was told that she walked from Virginia to Texas. My roots are Texas. So it’s near and dear to my heart.

CI: If Amendment T is passed, what would that mean to you?

LM: It would mean a lot to me. It would mean for myself, as well as my family, my community, a sense of human dignity. I think it would give us a spirit of freedom, a spirit of equality. It’s just hurtful to know that it’s still in our Colorado constitution.

I’m originally from Texas, but I grew up predominantly in Colorado. I graduated from Palmer High School in Colorado Springs and I really don’t think that it is a Colorado value. Morally, it’s just hurtful. And actually, my mother is still living, she’s 103, and it would mean a lot to her. Her grandmother was a slave.

CI: Can you tell me a bit about more how it’s hurtful to know that the exception is in the constitution?

LM: As I reflect on some of the stories told, the cruelty and pain and suffering…it still kind of rises up. And certain things about slavery triggers hurtfulness. I’m not the only one. Just speaking with others, we know it’s still hurtful.

People don’t realize if they haven’t witnessed it how hurtful it is. Words are important.

CI: Would you mind sharing one of your family’s stories?

LM: I can’t go into it too much because [my relatives] didn’t talk about it too much but families were split, and they didn’t know their brothers or their sisters. If they ever met, they were split up and didn’t know each other anymore. My grandmother went through the split-up. That’s painful.

CI: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

LM: To me, the movement is sacred and emotional. It will help many families and communities. I know I’m not the only one, but it’s been very close to me and my family. It’s helped me start the healing process in some areas. Because when we’re still talking about how slavery [is permitted] in our constitution today, it’s hurtful. Words matter.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.


Photo Credit: Stefan Ogrisek, Creative Commons, Flickr