Did you know slavery was still legal in Utah until 2020? We’ll talk about the drive to remove this provision in the Utah Constitution with an Emmy-award winning director, Loki Mulholland who directed the film “The End of Slavery.”
Loki: My latest project is called “The End of Slavery: the Fight for Amendment C.” It’s about the fight to actually take the language of slavery out of the Utah State Constitution. When the Utah State Constitution was written, they actually wrote in the language of the 13th Amendment, which was that slavery is abolished, except as a punishment for crime for those who’ve been duly convicted. What that means is that you can be re-enslaved again, not you and I, but African Americans, because that’s what it was written for. So, that was created as a nod to the South to re-enslave people, to put them into penal farms, and then do convict-leasing. So, what they would do is, if you were African American, you could be arrested for something like loitering. Loitering meant that you didn’t have a job and you were just kind of hanging around. Well, the problem was, is that white people weren’t going to hire black people. So, you couldn’t get a job. So, now you get arrested, you’re put into a penal farm. You’re leased back out to the mines, to the railroads, to the farms, to the plantations, and worked like a slave all over again. This is all for the black folks.
GT: It’s not just picking up trash on the side of the road.
Loki: No, it’s not just picking up trash on the streets, not things like you think about today. But, that was really the start of kind of the jailing institutions that we have today. It was just another way, not only to re-enslave people, but also to take away the right to vote. Voting is power and African-Americans, at that point, had the right to vote, but we need to take that away from them. So, that became, also, part of that whole system. What was interesting was, Utah was founded 30 years after slavery ended. The Civil War was done and everything. Yet, for some reason, they wrote that in there. So, Sandra Holland, she is the first black female elected official in the State of Utah. Right now, she’s the only black elected official in the state of Utah.
GT: We’ve got Burgess Owens, technically.
Loki: But, he’s not a state official.
GT: Okay. He’s a federal official.
Loki: He’s a federal official. Okay, so. This was brought to her by a reporter who said, “Hey, did you know this was still in here?” Colorado had already passed this. Utah is not the only state that had this in their state constitution, but they took it out in Colorado. So, they’re like, “Wow, we need to do this here in Utah.” So, a couple of years back, I think I want to say it was 2019 or so, 2018, 2019, the bill was passed in the House, which is where she is, and then it went to the Senate the next year. Then, it was on the ballot for the State of Utah to vote whether to take it out or not. The interesting thing I thought when I was making the film, was that in the State Capitol, I wanted to get a shot of Sandra, standing in front of the Constitution, we’d rack focus from her to the Constitution, like chiseled on the wall. I don’t know why I thought would be chiseled on the wall or something. But, there was no copy of the Constitution anywhere in the Capitol Building. I’m like, “Well, no wonder why no one knew that was there.”
Oregon is the next state to try to take slavery out of their constitution (and there are other states with this issue too.) Were you aware of slavery was technically legal? Check out our conversation….
Don’t miss our other conversations on Black Mormon History.