African Americans & the United States Constitution
The determination of African Americans (enslaved, free, and freed) to obtain full citizenship and the civil rights and liberties promised in the United States Constitution has posed significant challenges to America’s claim of being a country dedicated to freedom. Inasmuch, the Constitution, from draft in 1887 to present, has been a vehicle through which citizens have relied on to bring about freedom and liberty for all. Unfortunately, the reality is that the original Constitution was in fact an exclusionary document. Through constitutional amendments it has become a document that represents the ideals of freedom and democracy.
African Americans’ realities of enslavement and racial discrimination in the United States are manifested in the Constitution. This is most evident in Article I Sections 2 and 9; Article 9 Section 4, and the Civil War Amendments (13th, 14th and 15th) of the Constitution. Though no longer relevant, Article I Sections 2 and 9 and Article 9 Section 4 respectively spoke to concerns regarding the taxation of slaves as chattel property, the cessation of the international slave trade, and the return of runaway slaves. Indeed, the same institution of slavery and the property rights of slaveholders that the
Constitution protected under Article 9 Section 4 and the 5th Amendment, ended with the ratification of the 13th Amendment which in part states "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” (Source: U.S. Constitution). The 13th Amendment ended the question of slavery.
Moreover, the nearly four million people freed by the 13th Amendment received constitutional support for claims to citizenship and due process of the law with the adoption of the 14th Amendment, and voting rights with the passage of both the 15th and 19th Amendments. Today these four amendments in addition to the other 23 amendments to the Constitution provide Americans with civil rights and civil liberty protections. Americans of all backgrounds have cited and are still citing these amendments as supporting evidence to protect their rights as citizens of the United States.
Please read your Constitution and know your rights.
Dr. Roger Davidson & Dr. Claudia D. Nelson (Contributors)