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This article was originally published by The African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS), and is reprinted here with permission.
When prisoners in Alabama last spring proposed a national strike to protest “prison slavery,” they called out the infamous clause in the Thirteenth Amendment. The amendment most known for abolishing slavery included a rider that sanctioned slavery “as punishment for a crime wherein the party shall have been duly convicted.”
That exception provides the foundation for Ava DuVernay’s The 13th, an exploration of racial criminalization from the end of slavery to the present. The documentary features interviews with several leading scholars, pundits, and activists working on the issue, as well as a host of other commentators, including journalists and politicians. It moves quickly through more than 150 years of history, with a clear goal of providing the backdrop to the present moment of racial violence and resistance.