| 12 Jun 2024 | 10:07

    Next week, Orange County and the rest of the country will celebrate Juneteenth, a federal holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the Confederate states. On June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to free a quarter-million people still held in slavery more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the end of the Civil War.

    The Middletown Branch of the NAACP is happy to join in the celebration, but we also want to remind our fellow New Yorkers that slavery was not confined to the Confederacy. Some of the earliest immigrants to Orange County were African people held captive and enslaved by Dutch families in the Hudson Valley.

    We must also remind readers that roughly 800,000 Americans remain enslaved, including some here in Orange County, at Orange County Correctional Facility.

    The Thirteenth Amendment allowed an exception to the abolition of slavery for people convicted of crimes, and under that exception the population of incarcerated people forced to work for low or no pay has soared. In New York State, incarcerated workers earn as little as 10 cents an hour.

    Under the brand name “Corcraft,” these workers press license plates and assemble furniture for offices and classrooms. In testimony this past February, formerly incarcerated workers spoke of being denied showers, toilet paper, or food if they did not “volunteer” to work for Corcraft, being forced to work even when sick, and suffering lifelong injuries from the work they performed. A 2019 FOIA request revealed that Corcraft earned New York $53 million a year, while workers are paid pennies.

    The NAACP has called upon Congress and all state governments to abolish penal slavery and involuntary servitude, and adhere to international standards for the humane treatment of prisoners. We call upon lawmakers to raise pay to at least minimum wage for incarcerated laborers.

    This Juneteenth, we will join the celebration, but we will not forget those still living in slavery in the United States.

    Gail Jeter, President

    NAACP Middletown Branch