State legislature approves 2022 ballot initiative to abolish slavery from Tennessee Constitution
Resolution by Sen. Raumesh Akbari, Rep. Joe Towns passed state House at session’s end
NASHVILLE — A resolution that would abolish slavery under all circumstances in the state will soon be put to Tennessee voters for approval.
Currently, the Tennessee Constitution bans slavery, but includes a broad exception for people who have been convicted of a crime. An amendment to the state constitution could change that.
The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Towns (D-Memphis) and Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), passed the state House of Representatives on May 4. Though the legislation would ban slavery under all circumstances, incarcerated persons could still work for pay and receive on-the-job training.
The Senate approved the amendment weeks earlier. After the legislation is signed by the governor, the issue will be placed on the 2022 November ballot for voters to make the final decision.
Sen. Raumesh Akbari said: “It is due time to make clear, once and for all, that slavery is abolished, in all forms and under all circumstances, in the state of Tennessee. We have to reconcile slavery and discrimination in the law wherever it exists, even the Tennessee Constitution, because permissive language like this has allowed mass incarceration to flourish for generations. More than a century later, we are still trying undo the harmful consequences of this injustice.”
Rep. Joe Towns said: “Today is an historic day as this state has taken a definitive step forward in stripping all forms of slavery from the Tennessee State Constitution. Some Tennesseans may be prisoners, but, by God, they will not be slaves. We are the first Southern State to embrace universal abolition. I am proud to have carried this joint resolution and now we need all Tennesseans to join us in correcting this wrong by voting for this constitutional amendment in November of 2022.”