THE UGLY TRUTH
i'm afraid that you are precisely correct, Jahcub Onelove. The language crafted for the 13th Amendment was the subject of intense debate among the members of Congress, the Executive Branch, and the nation's wealthy business interest and landowning elite. The importance of slavery to the unified nation's economy (and especially that of the South) was considered to be far too great for it to be banned outright. Dissent against a law which would absolutely prohibit slavery and require that all labor be compensated in some way was so strong, especially from agricultural interests, that such an abolition amendment would have been politically dead on arrival and never would have been passed without an "escape clause" that permitted continued slavery under the flimsiest of pretexts. It was well understood that "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted" was a green light for American business interests to use legal means to maintain a Post-Civil-War African American slave labor pool to continue to be used whenever they deemed it to be expedient (read: profitable).
It was no coincidence whatsoever that laws such as Virginia's Vagrancy Act of 1866 were quickly passed immediately following the December 18, 1865 adoption of the 13th Amendment. Approved by the Virginia General Assembly on January 15, 1866, the Act forced into employment, for a term of up to three months, any person who appeared to be unemployed or homeless. So-called "vagrants" were forced to work for no compensation while wearing balls and chains. More formally known as the Act Providing for the Punishment of Vagrants, the law came right after the American Civil War (1861–1865), when hundreds of thousands of African Americans, many of them who had just been proclaimed "free" by the 13th Amendment, wandered the country in search of work and displaced family members. As such, the act criminalized freed African Americans just as they were supposedly starting to build new lives as freemen.
And last but not least, let's not forget that right now as we are writing these posts in 2018, we still have HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of African Americans convicted of non-violent offense (like involvement in the CIA-engineered "crack" cocaine epidemic) incarcerated in the U.S. for ridiculously long terms under Draconian sentencing laws and forced to work as virtual slaves, with de minimis or no compensation, for the benefit of corporate America. This is not happenstance or the by-product of some crime epidemic; it's by design.
Truth: Our African American brethren and sistren have never really been freed at all from downpression.
JAH COME BREAK DWONPRESSION, RULE EQUALITY, WIPE AWAY TRANSGRESSION, SET THE CAPTIVES FREE!