Submitted by Myra Klockenbrink, Greenwich
On the adoption of Juneteenth as a state holiday last week (the celebration of the emancipation of slaves on June 19, 1865 ), it was mortifying to see our state representative Kimberly Fiorello (R-149) lecture a chamber attended by many people of color on their history.
On this emotionally poignant day, as legislators shared their family stories of living under Jim Crow and the KKK, Representative Fiorello chose to offer a history lesson about the three-fifths compromise.
This compromise, forged at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, was sought by Southern states to make up for their population deficit in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. By insisting on counting each slave as 3/5ths of a human being, they could increase their representation, without actually giving any voting rights to their slaves. Northern and abolitionist states fought against augmenting that power. In the compromise to count three-fifths of the slave population, slave-holding states gained influence on the presidency, the speakership of the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court.
But that’s not how Kimberly Fiorello saw it.
“The 3/5ths compromise is a compromise in favor towards freedom!” she declared. “The slaveholding states actually recognized what they claimed to be things that they owned. Suddenly they wanted to count them as full human beings. How ironic that in that moment when they got political power, they actually said, ‘No, no, no, these people are human beings. They count as full human beings.’”
What she ignores and effectively distorts is that slaveholders wanted the slave population to be counted so that they could have the votes, which they used to promote and expand slavery as an institution all the way to the Civil War, a bloody, five-year conflict the slave-holding states instigated and fought for the defense of slavery,
It was not until after the Civil War with the adoption of the 13th amendment that enslaved Americans gained their freedom. For more than 77 years between the three-fifths compromise and the Civil War, Black Americans remained in bondage with no representation in Congress, without the vote, and without the rights afforded to any of their oppressors.
The three-fifths compromise was not progress; it was yet another page in the book of affliction of Black people. It was never meant as a step to give them either representation or freedom. They and their allies have fought for those freedoms and representation to this day.
Ms. Fiorello complains about the Assembly’s focus on disparities and claims that they do not equal discrimination. But in fact, the disparity in her understanding and her distortion of our history leads to the kinds of discrimination people of color continue to experience.
Representative Fiorello insists that our legislative assembly “stop talking about race,” but her misapprehension of the facts demands the conversation must continue.
Juneteenth footage of Fiorello:
2:14:14 time stamp