With the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the United States made it a crime to hold another person in slavery. Slavery did not disappear, however; it just shifted. Brutal Jim Crow laws enabled southern planters to trap freed people in exploitative labor contracts. Life in the North was not much better with rampant housing discrimination, racial violence, and limited economic opportunities all working to maintain a nation rooted in white supremacy.
The tireless activism of black Americans continued the push for freedom and equality. Early twentieth-century reformers like Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, and W. E. B. Du Bois refused to accept the half-freedom of Jim Crow. Generations after generations continued the struggle until the “neo-abolitionists” of the civil rights movement won a breakthrough. The great legislative achievements of the civil rights movement represented a true triumph, but the fight for equality continues, as does the fight against slavery.
After the passage of the thirteenth amendment, many American abolitionists moved on to other forms of social activism, while others turned their gaze to the international spaces where slavery continued. International abolition won a major victory in 1888 when Brazil abolished slavery. Brazilian abolition represented the end of the last transatlantic slave trade regime. But in other places slavery continued, including in Mauritania where slavery was not legally prohibited until 1984. But even today, with slavery now illegal in every country in the world, millions of men, women, and children remain enslaved.