Black leaders want to erase slavery from Utah constitution

Black community activist Darlene McDonald speaks at a rally commemorating the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 2020, in downtown Salt Lake City. (Ben Winslow/ KSTU, via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — On the anniversary of the historic March on Washington that helped push the nation forward in terms of racial equality, Black community leaders in Utah launched a campaign to remove references to “slavery” from the state’s founding document.

“This language in our constitution, it was written 32 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It should never have been placed in our constitution,” Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, told FOX 13. “It no longer reflects Utah values. It’s not who we are as a state.”

Rep. Hollins sponsored the bill that unanimously passed the legislature to put Amendment C on the ballot. She is joining with a coalition of community groups to get it passed by voters in November, including the NAACP, the Utah Black Roundtable, Action Utah, the Alliance for a Better Utah, the Greater Salt Lake Alumnae of Delta Sigma Teta, and others. They plan to reach out to voters with mailers, ads and a website, abolishslaveryutah.org.

On Aug. 18, hundreds marched through downtown Salt Lake City on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington. They called for racial equality and policing reforms after a series of killings by officers, locally and across the country. Wearing T-shirts that said “Black Lives Matter,” many danced at Washington Square as speakers stood and urged them to stay involved in getting legislation passed.

“Register to vote! You can do it on your phone. Go vote!” longtime community activist Darlene McDonald told the crowd.

McDonald is among those urging passage of Amendment C.

The 13th Amendment did get rid of slavery but not in its entirety,” she said.

McDonald acknowledged it seems baffling that removing references to slavery would have to even be debated, but she was bracing for opposition to Amendment C, especially as it pertains to “involuntary servitude” which is sometimes prison labor.

“Slavery should not be a part of the Utah constitution or any constitution in this country, especially in 2020,” she said. “I do anticipate some pushback, yes, because of the criminal justice system. And prison labor and corporations using prison labor for cheap labor. That’s the reason why we anticipate some pushback.”

Rep. Hollins believes careful crafting of the language of the proposed amendment should adequately deal with any opposition concerned about prison labor.

“I don’t expect this will be a hard sell to voters. I think Utah understands this needs to be out of our constitution,” she said.

GOP Sen. Jake Anderegg sponsored her bill in the state Senate, and in a statement he encouraged his fellow Republicans to vote for the amendment on Election Day. “Removing this outdated provision sends a strong, bipartisan statement about our values as citizens of Utah,” he said.

It is among seven constitutional amendments voters will decide in November.

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1 Comment

  • John September 5, 2020 at 8:01 pm Reply

    And just what does the Utah Constitution say about slavery? It was missing from the article I read.

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