Slave Patrols Live On

In solidarity with protesters – who remain out in force across the country – we’re running a series this week called “Black Lives Matter in the Coal Region.” Dozens of events have been held in our region, from Scranton to Shamokin. This series seeks to amplify the voices of the people in the streets, providing transcribed speeches and videos from various events.

This speech – the second in our series – took place on June 20, 2020 in Pottsville as part of the Juneteenth Celebration hosted by the MLK Family Enrichment Center.

Sunbury, PA (July 12, 2020) — About 150 people gathered at Cameron Park in Sunbury to join the Milton-based anti-racist collective ‘If Not Us, Then Who?’ for a Black Lives Matter protest and march. Photo by Paul Weaver. To view more of his work, visit ©Paul Weaver

by George Maroukis

The 13th Amendment:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

I want to be clear, the Civil War was an underclass bloodletting hosted by industrialist elites to secure labor power.

In the South, slavery was a feature of capitalism, the private ownership of people aimed at extracting profits and accumulating surplus value at the most minimal cost. In the North, the dominant illusion was that slaves could escape individual ownership and trade their labor for wages much like any poor white. I say illusion because no longer would a single individual own slaves such as in the South, now Northern capitalists of the emerging industries could share the exploitation of legitimized captive labor.

The recently deceased Black Revolutionary, James “Yaki” Sayles said it best, “this national oppression was “legalized” and given a new form through the 13th amendment to the U.S. constitution — along with the 14th and 15th amendments to that same document.”

No longer did the plantation owner have to employ Slave Patrols, whose mission was:

1. To chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves;

2. To provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and,

3. To maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside the law.

Now the State would replace the slave patrol of the South with the police of the North. No longer would slavery be privatized at the expense of the individual owner in the South. With the 13th Amendment, slavery was socialized for the capitalist class; enforced by the police state, and paid for by the common tax dollar.

The evolution of the police state links corporate enterprise with prison labor and by doing so helps demonstrate how the slave patrols of the past, live on in the policing of today, returning uncaptured labor power back to their masters, the owners of extraction.

  • African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.
  • Black women are imprisoned twice that of white women.
  • Black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than whites.

You see the organized terror that the Black community is continuously subjected to. The very fact that the police who murder them in the street, continuously walk free.  Doctrine such as stop and frisk provide the legal framework, a literal blue print, to act out the same objectives as the slave patrol. The unjust administration of the law, dehumanizing an entire group of people.

So, how does this tie into our history here in Schuylkill County? Although there may be more than a few Civil War service members that volunteered, the dominant sentiment of the region was one of repulsion. To give some context….

In the Mid 1800’s this region was the nation’s largest producer of anthracite coal and part of nation’s largest producer of timber. Workers in the region were under constant pressure as capitalist would routinely introduce immigrants to the region, controlling labor density, which in turn controls wages. This economic instability cultivated, at the least, an impartiality to the slave condition in the South. The average laborer in this region knew that a newly freed class of capable people meant a challenge to their ability to materially sustain.

This understanding of class struggle, resulted in men draft dodging, taking to the mountains and hiding from state authorities. In more drastic measures, petitions would be presented to state legislators to prohibit the immigration of Blacks into the state and region.

It is clear in this very moment, for as long as the fruits of their labor were held captive by the state, the cultivated insecurity of material needs would be used by capitalist to divide, to turn brother against brother and sister against sister. In order for the state to absorb this pent up labor power, a reformation is introduced, the 13th Amendment. This Amendment only adds a layer of protection, a further masking, to addressing the true parasite, capitalism, which births these unjust state actions. There is no reformation that will transcend the remnants of slavery, it will just give it another name. Sharecropper, debt peonage, or today with the current state of capital financialization. So the division remains.

What I think is most important is to understand that the 13th Amendment did not provide true freedom for African Americans. When the 13th Amendment had passed, Black people were not asked if they would like to become a U.S. Citizen, they weren’t asked if they wanted to return to their homeland or a different country, or if the U.S. would forfeit some of its land for a Black nation.

The amendment delivered into legal contract the labor relations which Black people would now be forced to participate. The manipulation and coercion into this new contract of servitude at most landed Black people to the same level of freedom shared by poor whites, and at the very least changed plantation shackles for prison shackles. The amendment says, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within the United States,” reformism is voluntary servitude.

To close out I’d like to quote Yaki Syles once more:

The 13th amendment remains one of the instruments used by the American government to deceive us, to make us think we are a part of it. The amendment remains an instrument used to maintain the domination of New Afrika. Therefore, the challenge to the 13th amendment can in no way be separated from the struggle to liberate the entire nation of New Afrikan people. It would be incorrect to see this amendment as nothing more than something used to subjugate all prisoners. Because prisoners are able to make this challenge not because the amendment allowed the “legalization of slavery” in prisons, as such; but because it allowed Afrikans to be made prisoners, and thereby “legally” re-enslaved — initially in the southern section of the U.S., and later from U.S. border to border.

Thank you.

George Maroukis lives in Auburn, Pa., born to a carpenter/ mechanic and a nurse in Schuylkill Haven. He graduated from Penn State University with a BA in Communications. Previously he served six years in the USAF as a Preventive Medicine Specialist, and was deployed to Afghanistan. Today he is a human rights activist – including anti-war – and a bicycle infrastructure advocate. 

All photos for this “Black Lives Matter in the Coal Region” series are by Paul Weaver. Check out more of his work here.

Did you give a speech at a local BLM rally? Would you be interested in having it published on our blog? If so, be in touch.

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