US Apologizes for Slavery, Georgia Remains Reticent
(APN) ATLANTA — The U.S. House of Representatives voted July 29, 2008, to approve a non-binding resolution that represents a formal government apology to African-Americans for the practice of slavery and the Jim Crow laws that fostered defacto segregation.
US Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), a progressive White Congressman who represents a majority Black District, crafted H. Res. 194 in February 2007.
“The fact is, slavery and Jim Crow are stains on what is the greatest nation on Earth and the greatest government ever created by man,” Cohen said on the House floor.
“We have worked to form a more perfect union and part of forming a more perfect union is laws and part of it is such a resolution as we have before us today where we face up to our mistakes and we apologize as anyone should apologize for things that were done in the past that were wrong,” Cohen continued. “And we begin a dialogue that will hopefully lead us to a better understanding of where we are in America today and why certain conditions exist.”
According to The Hill newspaper, US Sens. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) are working to introduce a similar resolution in the Senate and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to take it up before recess.
However, the State of Georgia remains reticient, even while several other states have issued apologies.
During the Georgia General Assembly’s 2008 session, State Reps. Al Williams (D-Macon) and Tyrone Brooks (D-Douglas County) introduced HR 1011 that would have represented Georgia’s official slavery apology. The resolution never came to a vote.
As exclusively reported by Atlanta Progressive News in April 2007, Rep. Brooks received a hateful, racist email after introducing the bill in Georgia’s legislature previously.
The email, obtained by APN, read in part: “The only thing we need to be sorry for is bringing sorry n*****s over here in the first place. You lazy n*****s only want an apology and acceptance of responsibility so you lazy buck toothed c***s can get more free money.”
After APN published the article about the email, the news agency also received a hateful, racist email. Both emails were forwarded to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.
“There is a possibility we will have language to prepare a resolution for introduction in both Chambers, but I do not see a resolution passing this Session. That means it will carry over to the next Session,” Brooks told APN in 2007.
“I think there are some lawmakers who now understand that we have no other choice to join Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. It’s going to happen, I can’t tell you when, but just as sure as I’m talking to you today, the State of Georgia will issue a formal resolution for (Georgia’s role in) the slave trade industry,” Brooks said.
Some Georgia Republican legislators had argued the bill was unnecessary, according to Brooks.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue expressed doubt about the bill last year. “Repentance comes from the heart,” he said, according to television news stations. “I’m not sure about public apologies … as far as the motivation for them.”
Florida became the sixth state to apologize for slavery last month, in addition to Alabama, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Virginia; Virginia was the first. Looking at a map of the United States, this leaves Georgia and South Carolina conspicuous in that they are literally surrounded by states which have issued apologies.
In the US House, Cohen introduced H. Res. 194 in February 2007 and managed to bring 120 cosponsors on board, including Georgia’s US Reps. John Lewis (D-GA), David Scott (D-GA), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), and Hank Johnson (D-GA), all whom are Black.
Slavery lasted on this continent from 1619 until 1865 when amendments to the U.S. Constitution outlawed the practice. In the 1870s, Southern and some border states enacted Jim Crow laws that denied African-Americans the right to vote as well as other civil liberties in order to create legal segregation.
The federal government took action during the 1960s to end the practice but H. Res. 194 acknowledges that Jim Crow’s “vestiges still linger to this day.”
“The fact that this government has not apologized to its own citizens, African-Americans, for the institution of slavery and for the Jim Crow laws that followed is certainly a mistake and today we rectify that mistake,” Cohen said.
While the resolution does not mention anything about reparations to descendants of slaves, it does state that the House “expresses its commitment to rectify the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow and to stop the occurrence of human rights violations in the future.”
Georgia has taken other steps, though, to rectify these previous injustices in its own way. In 2005, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed four bills officially removing Jim Crow laws from the Georgia code even though those laws had not been enforced in years.
Cohen’s resolution marks the fourth time in 20 years the federal government has apologized to an ethnic group for previous injustices.
In 1988, Congress passed and President Reagan signed an act that apologized for the interment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II and the 60,000 detainees still alive each received $20,000.
In 1993, the Senate passed a resolution apologizing for the 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, which the resolution acknowledged was illegal.
In April of this year, US Sen. Brownback sponsored and the Senate passed a resolution that “apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.”
Cohen concluded that he hopes his resolution generates a broader discussion on race in the United States.
“This is a symbolic resolution but hopefully it will begin a dialogue, where people open their hearts and minds to the problems that face this country, from racism that exists in this country from both sides and which must end, if we’re to go forward as the country we were created to be and which we are destined to be,” he said.
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