Apologies for slavery too little too late

Sam Johns

After all these years, Johnny Reb is trying to come clean about his dirty deeds during slavery. When I say Johnny Reb, I mean the racist Confederate States that made the institution of slavery in this country the law of the land and now they want to say I am sorry. Really… it’s too little too late, you Ass!

For example, Maryland apologizing for slavery will amount to an empty gesture without further action, a historian says.

“We need to have truth and justice commissions to present to the public what slavery did and how we actually are all involved and either benefited or were hurt,” said Melinda Chateauvert, an African-American studies professor at University of Maryland, College Park.

Slavery “has been deliberately obscured, and we don’t have that atonement that really has to come from having an open discussion.”

Democratic Sen. Nathaniel Exum and Del. Michael Vaughn, both of Prince George’s, introduced identical resolutions that would express “profound regret for the role that Maryland played in instituting and maintaining slavery and for the discrimination that was slavery’s legacy.”

Exum said he agrees the apology should serve as a catalyst for future discussions.

“No one has officially said that [slavery] was wrong,” he said.

Should Maryland officially apologize for its slavery past?

Maryland “imported men, women and children, torn from their homes in Africa and subjected to the brutality of the Middle Passage,” according to the resolution.

“Maryland citizens trafficked in human flesh until the adoption of the Constitution of 1864 and ... subjected its victims to unspeakable cruelties, including beatings, rape and the forcible separation of family members from one another.”

Human trafficking occurred in Maryland as recently as the 1930s, Chateauvert said, when Baltimoreans were sold to farmers on the Eastern Shore.

Her suggestion to form commissions is modeled after groups established to address genocide in Rwanda and Cambodia, she said.

Virginia became the first state last month to apologize for slavery, and Missouri is considering it.

Four advocates and no opponents spoke at a Senate hearing on the measure this month.

Georgia debates the issue: A House hearing has not been scheduled.

Georgia Governor Perdue Skeptical Over Effort to Apologize for Slavery. Gov. Sonny Perdue said Monday he was skeptical about following Virginia's lead in having his state apologize for its role in slavery.

"Repentance comes from the heart," he said. "I'm not sure about public apologies ... as far as the motivation for them."

A bill acknowledging and apologizing for Georgia's role in the slave trade was expected to be unveiled later Monday, supported by the Georgia arm of the NAACP.

The measure also has the backing of state Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, a Republican who has been meeting with black leaders in the state.

The clamor for an apology for slavery comes as Georgia considers a measure that would officially designate April as Confederate History and Heritage Month.

Perdue said the issue is being handled by the Legislature and he will watch what lawmakers do.

"I haven't run across anyone in Georgia who is not regretful and repentant of man's inhumanity when you talk about owning one another," the Republican governor said.

"Those of us in public office today, I think we're called to live our lives and inspire our citizens to live their lives so that our children and grandchildren have nothing to apologize for," Perdue said.

In an article in the Washington Post, Carol M. Swain believes that the Republican Party owes Blacks an apology for slavery.

It's time for the Republican Party to write a new chapter in race relations. What I have in mind is something beyond the Senate's recent resolution on lynching and this week's expression of regret by a high-ranking Republican official for the GOP's use of what came to be know as the "Southern Strategy." What I propose is a formal apology for slavery and its aftermath. This could take the form of a joint resolution passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president in a ceremonial setting where Americans could gather to symbolically bury their past.

Whenever the idea of an apology is raised, some whites reflexively recoil. They believe it is a bad idea because it conjures up images of innocent whites prostrating themselves before blacks for crimes they never committed. Most outspoken are whites whose ancestors arrived after the end of slavery and those who fought for the Union. Neither we nor our ancestors, they argue, had anything to do with slavery, so why should we apologize?

Others will say that an apology is not necessary because one has already been issued — two, really. In 1998 President Clinton acknowledged the evils of slavery. And last year President Bush visited Goree Island, a holding place for captured slaves in Africa, and spoke of the wrongs and injustices of slavery. "Small men," he said, "took on the powers and airs of tyrants and masters. Years of unpunished brutality and bullying and rape produced a dullness and hardness of conscience. Christian men and women became blind to the clearest commands of their faith and added hypocrisy to injustice."

That sounds like an apology. Nevertheless, while presidents as far back as John Adams have acknowledged the wrongness of slavery, there is still much to be said for an official apology. It would bring closure and healing to a festering wound, she writes.

Meeting on the grounds of the former Confederate Capitol, the Virginia General Assembly voted unanimously Saturday to express “profound regret” for the state’s role in slavery.

Sponsors of the resolution say they know of no other state that has apologized for slavery, although Missouri lawmakers are considering such a measure. The resolution does not carry the weight of law but sends an important symbolic message, supporters said.

“This session will be remembered for a lot of things, but 20 years hence I suspect one of those things will be the fact that we came together and passed this resolution,” said Delegate A. Donald McEachin, a Democrat who sponsored it in the House of Delegates. The resolution passed the House 96-0 and cleared the 40-member Senate on a unanimous voice vote. It does not require Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s approval.

The measure also expressed regret for “the exploitation of Native Americans.”

The resolution was introduced as Virginia begins its celebration of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, where the first Africans arrived in 1619. Richmond, home to a popular boulevard lined with statues of Confederate heroes, later became another point of arrival for Africans and a slave-trade hub.

‘Insidious institutions and practices’

The resolution says government-sanctioned slavery “ranks as the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation’s history, and the abolition of slavery was followed by systematic discrimination, enforced segregation, and other insidious institutions and practices toward Americans of African descent that were rooted in racism, racial bias, and racial misunderstanding.”

In Virginia, Black voter turnout was suppressed with a poll tax and literacy tests before those practices were struck down by federal courts, and state leaders responded to federally ordered school desegregation with a “Massive Resistance” movement in the 1950s and early ’60s. Some communities created exclusive whites-only schools.

The apology is the latest in a series of strides Virginia has made in overcoming its segregationist past. Virginia was the first state to elect a black governor — L. Douglas Wilder in 1989 — and the Legislature took a step toward atoning for Massive Resistance in 2004 by creating a scholarship fund for blacks whose schools were shut down between 1954 and 1964.

Among those voting for the measure was Delegate Frank D. Hargrove, an 80-year-old Republican who infuriated Black leaders last month by saying “black citizens should get over” slavery.

After enduring a barrage of criticism, Hargrove successfully co-sponsored a resolution calling on Virginia to celebrate “Juneteenth,” a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

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