Who is Human in America? A Question Answered by Those Who Wrote the Constitution of The United States

Written by: Dr. Edith Langford

Author, Ethnographic Researcher & Clinician, Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC, LMHC), and Addiction Specialist (CASAC, ADC) with four decades of experience. After a lifetime of experiencing ongoing medical mistreatment, she is working on a memoir about medical racism in our healthcare system




Tombstone of Prince Eiland

Prince Eiland, my maternal great, great grandfather who was born in 1834 would have been counted as 3/5 of a human being for the first 34 years of his life in America.  My maternal great grandfather, Jack Brown, who was born in 1839 would have been counted in the same way for the first 29 years of his life.

Often, Black people in America are told to move, forget, or let go of the past. For some Black folks it just isn’t possible; the past wasn’t too long ago. As a child I even knew some older folks in our community who had been enslaved.  My grandfather, Horace Brown, whom we called ‘Papa’, was the son of Jack Brown, my mother’s father.  This is not ancient history. 

The men who wrote the Constitution of the US included the Three-Fifths Compromise—Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3. The Three-fifths Compromise was an agreement reached during the 1787 Constitutional Convention, convened over the counting of slaves in determining a state's total population. This count would determine the number of seats in the House of Representatives and how much each state would pay in taxes. The compromise counted three-fifths of each state's slave population. Even though slaves were denied voting rights, this gave Southern states a third more representatives and a third more presidential electoral votes than if slaves had not been counted. Free Blacks were not subject to the compromise, and each was counted as one full person for representation1Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) later superseded this clause and explicitly repealed the compromise.




Tombstone of Jack Brown

This compromise, like most compromises, did not please either side completely.  Those against slavery had the opinion that if the slave states wanted to count slaves as people, then they should treat them equally as people and not chattel.  Remember, this was a time when only White, male property owners had voting rights, so this had nothing to do with voting, it was just about the numbers.  

The slave states got more representation in Congress, as they desired.  What did they give up in the compromise you ask? While it provided that the Southern states could count their slaves as 3/5 human, they could only do so if they agreed to put an end to slave importation in 20 years.  Basically, it was a 20-year strategy to do away with slavery in the U.S.  Of course, it didn't work out that way, because slave owners began breeding slaves instead of importing them.  It is indeed a twisted and convoluted history that we share here in the United States.

Most Black folks have come to terms with the fact that we appear in this country’s foundational documents as the “chattel thereof”, belonging to another, and were mere property. However, continuing to be treated as such is something that none of us want to accept. When it comes to White women, they also can accept that some folks were not treated as human, but do they think about what those who write the Constitution of the U.S. think about them? Perhaps they need to take another look at those foundational documents. White women are also not considered worthy in the Constitution since they too were not White, land-owning men. Were they considered chattel as well? I don’t know. I am still trying to figure out whether everyone sees me as fully human in this day and age.

This practice of bending, twisting and changing the rules in favor of White supremacy continues today. Like-minded descendants of those who wrote the Constitution of the U.S. continue to deprive American citizens of color of having full citizenship and the right to vote. They continue to pull outlandish stunts like gerrymandering, to make sure that our presence as human beings and equal citizens is diluted, fractured, and silenced.

Take Common Dreams reporter, Jake Johnson’s article, “In Dead of Night, Texas House Approves GOP's Gerrymandered Map”, which describes how Texas lawmakers go out of their way to make life harder for it’s Black and Brown citizens to have equal voice.

“…At around 3:30 am local time, Texas lawmakers passed the GOP's state House redistricting proposal in a largely party-line vote after roughly 14 hours of debate. The bill, authored by state Rep. Todd Hunter (R-32) and designed to set boundaries for the 150 Texas House districts, now heads to state's Republican-controlled Senate…”

Dan Solomon’s September 30, 2021 article in Texas Monthly, “Explaining the Most Bizarrely Shaped Districts in Texas’s Proposed Congressional Map” explains the power that gerrymandering has on upholding White supremacy.

“Across the state, there will be one more majority-Anglo district than under the prior map, and one fewer majority-Hispanic one. The two new seats Texas was awarded for its booming population will be placed in Austin and Houston—and even though non-Anglo newcomers made up 95 percent of the state’s population growth the last decade, both districts will be Anglo-majority…”



      1. McGee, Heather. 2021.The Sum of Us: What Racism Cost Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together London: One World.

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