Home > Uncategorized > February 11 – Three Fifths Human

February 11 – Three Fifths Human

One of my favorite musicians is Chicago’s very own Lonnie Rashied Lynn, Jr., better known in the industry as hip hop artist Common. In addition to his music and lyrics, I love the fact that he invites his father, Lonnie “Pops” Lynn, Sr., to close out each of his albums with spoken poetry.

Recently, I was listening to Common’s 2005 album Be; to the final track entitled It’s Your World, and enjoying Pops’ voice when one line of his poem jumped out at me:

Be amended 5/5ths, Be amended 5/5ths human,
Be the owner of more land than is set aside for wild life…

Do you know what this 5/5ths is referring to?

Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution states that “representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

In layman’s terms: Black slaves were counted as 3/5 of a Human Being.

This “Three-Fifths Compromise,” as it came to be known, was reached at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 to settle a dispute between the Northern and Southern states. The number of delegates in the US House of Representatives was to be determined by the size of a state’s population. Southern states wanted to include slaves in their overall headcount, thereby granting them more seats in the House. Northern states, seeking to balance the power, preferred to count only the free inhabitants of each state.

Benjamin Harrison of Virginia proposed a compromise of ½. A handful of New Englanders proposed ¾. In the end, they settled on 3/5. And in retrospect, it’s appalling and unsettling to imagine these founding fathers assigning arbitrary percentages to the humanity of other men.

It would be almost 100 years before the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution superseded the Three-Fifths Compromise, stating that “Representatives shall be apportioned …counting the whole number of persons in each State.”

And so, when Pops says on his son’s album, “be amended 5/5ths human,” he is referring to the fact that his ancestors were once considered less than human, while at the same time calling on current and future generations to reach their full potential as whole, full, complete human beings.

thanks for reading,

francis

“I want to be a duck.”

–   one of “the kids” from It’s Your World

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