A man displays a shirt celebrating the freedom of enslaved Black people during the Juneteenth celebration on June 19. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker will lead a statewide, bipartisan coalition of elected leaders urging Tennesseans to approve a measure that would remove language permitting a form of slavery from the Tennessee Constitution.
The Constitution is currently worded: “That slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, are forever prohibited by this State.” Should the constitutional amendment pass, the phrase ‘except as punishment’ for a crime will be removed from the document.
“When I served as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I became aware of the travesty that modern slavery today affects more than 27 million people worldwide. Working with others, we passed legislation to begin to counter this in a more effective way,” said Corker, a Republican. “I think it is more than timely to strike any reference to slavery from our state constitution and I appreciate the work of those leading the effort to do so.”
Before being placed on the ballot, the amendment had to pass in the Tennessee House and Senate during the last two years of the legislative session. The measure had bipartisan support, with four senators voting against it in 2021.
The “Vote Yes on 3” campaign launched in June to coincide with Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the date in 1865 when U.S. Gen. Gordon Granger notified enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, they were free through President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Granger’s announcement came more than two months after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to U.S. Gen. Ulysses Grant in Appomattox, Va.
Other members of the “Vote Yes on 3” Advisory Board include Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower, Ripley Mayor Craig Fitzhugh, Mayors Lee Harris of Shelby County, John Cooper of Metro Nashville and Davidson County, and Glenn Jacobs of Knox County. State legislators include Democratic retiring Sen. Brenda Gilmore, Sen. Heidi Campbell, Rep. Bob Freeman — all of Nashville — Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis and Knoxville Rep. Gloria Johnson. Republican legislators include House Republican Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison of Cosby, Rep. Mark White of Memphis and retiring Rep. Eddie Mannis of Knoxville.
The issue will be considered by voters on the Nov. 8 ballot.
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