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Push underway to remove ‘slavery’ from state law

Ballot effort would strike archaic constitutional language
Sister Sharon Bridgeforth, an organizer with a campaign that seeks to strike an exemption to the state’s prohibition on slavery, speaks at a rally Tuesday at the Colorado Capitol.

DENVER – A campaign kicked off Tuesday to eliminate language in the state constitution that allows for slavery in some cases.

The Legislature in May unanimously referred the issue to voters, and it is likely to appear on the November ballot as Amendment T.

“Slavery is not compatible with freedom,” said Sister Sharon Bridgeforth, a member of the campaign’s committee. She added, “Slavery is not a Colorado value.” The measure would strike language from the constitution that allows for slavery as punishment for crimes.

The language is 140 years old and was never used, but it carries with it symbolism.

Proponents gathered on the steps of the Capitol to launch the campaign, chanting, “Yes on T, no slavery!” They sang gospel and African-American freedom songs, such as “Oh, Freedom” and “Woke Up This Morning.”

“Oh, freedom, oh, freedom, oh, freedom over me. And before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave,” sang the diverse group of about 70 people.

State Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, chimed in. “If we have any mention of slavery in the Colorado Constitution, slavery deserves to be in its grave,” he said.

Proponents said they were not aware of any official opposition group formed to fight the ballot question. One observer joked, “Maybe the KKK?”

The biggest difficulty proponents may have is confusion, as voters might vote “no” on the initiative, thinking they’re opposing slavery. That’s why proponents are careful to say, “Yes on T, no slavery.”

“It doesn’t make sense that the people of Colorado ... made some type of statement that says that slavery is OK in some circumstances,” said Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, who spoke of being the descendant of slaves.

“We’re taking that archaic language out because words do matter.”


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