The 'White Slavery' Law That Ended Up Targeting Black Men

chuck berry playing guitar
Via Picryl
Adé Hennis
March 1, 2024

The White-Slave Traffic Act, or Mann Act, was passed in June 1910, targeting those who were involved in “prostitution, immorality, and human trafficking” of women across state lines. However, the interpretation of  “immorality” was abused.

Prostitution was equated with  “white slavery” in the early 1900s, but when cases were investigated, the Justice Department was unable to find evidence of a “crisis.”  Soon after, a law that was supposed to protect people from sex trafficking became a weapon against other forms of sexual conduct.

Boxing legend Jack Johnson was convicted of violating the law in 1913, but in reality, the Department of Justice had been hounding Johnson for years, mainly because of his marriage to a white woman.

Musician Chuck Berry was convicted in 1961 for violating the Mann Act, but Berry had long been under attack for his relationships with white women. The female plaintiff in his case was upset because Berry had fired her.

The Mann Act is an example of how the government turned a law that was supposed to protect into a weapon of discrimination. When systemic injustices like this happen, it’s a reminder that they must be called out, challenged and eradicated.

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