Jersey City activists celebrated Juneteenth at Lincoln Park today by announcing plans to “amend the 13th,” a nationwide movement that seeks to add language to state constitutions to prohibit slavery or involuntary servitude.
“How are we gonna have reform in a system that’s built on slavery and involuntary servitude if we haven’t discussed the concept of abolition? Because we need our freedom first: all the way,” said Jersey City activist Dennis Febo.
Febo pointed out that the 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, 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.”
As a result, there is a push in New Jersey to have an amendment made to the state constitution.
On February 25th, Assemblywomen Shanique Speight (D-29), Angela McKnight (D-31), and Britnee Timberlake (D-34) sponsored Bill A-145 to amend the state constitution to remove the aforementioned clause.
“This November, it’s not gonna be for Biden it’s gonna be for freedom,” Febo added, who was also critical of President Abraham Lincoln, who he said pushed to end slavery as a strategic move to win the Civil War – as opposed to a push for racial equality.
Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement Executive Director Pamela Johnson and activist Frank “Educational” Gilmore shared details about their experiences with incarceration and why it’s important to keep moving forward.
“Involuntary servitude: 21 years ago, they made profit off my black body. Hudson County Correctional Facility, on Rykers Island, in an Essex County jail. I did my time and I came out a different person … they fed me garbage, held me hostage, and basically tried to kill me,” Johnson said.
“This is personal for me right here: I was sentenced to 120 months in state prison, of which I did 80 … I never knew anything about the 13th [amendment] … We’re fighting for something that should be a due diligence, a human right: a human right we’re standing here fighting for in 2020.”
Asheenia Johnson, who has worked for McKnight and is now an aide for Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson, implored the crowd of 50 people or so to make note of who didn’t show up today, in particular the elected officials who didn’t even make an effort to promote the event.
“Those who represent on the state and federal level: ask them where they stood on this amendment, ask them where they stood on putting the word out on this amendment. It’s not enough to sit in a chamber, press a button, and vote: we need your voice.”
Juneteenth, the day when Texan slaves were freed in 1865 – the emancipation of all the slaves in the Confederacy – was declared a municipal holiday here in Jersey City for the first time earlier this week.