US Senate passes resolution to Apologize for Slavery

The Senate passed a resolution Thursday calling on the United States to apologize officially for the enslavement and segregation of millions of African-Americans and to acknowledge "the fundamental injustice, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws."

The resolution, sponsored with little fanfare by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, passed on a voice vote. It now moves to the House of Representatives, where it may meet an unlikely foe: members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Several CBC members expressed concerns Thursday about a disclaimer that states that "nothing in this resolution authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States."

Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., the Senate's lone African-American, went to the floor after the Harkin resolution passed and said, "I want to go on record making sure that that disclaimer in no way would eliminate future actions that may be brought before this body that may deal with reparations."

NAACP, unlike Congressional Black Caucus, applauds slavery apology

The U.S. Senate support of a resolution offering a formal apology for slavery has not gone far enough for some members of the Congressional Black Caucus (see previous post), but the NAACP is happy with the action.

The head of the NAACP sent out a statement this morning to the media applauding the action today by senators and is urging the House to follow suit.

Senator Roland W. Burris today delivered a statement on the Senate floor supporting Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) for their introduction of a resolution to apologize for slavery, Jim Crow laws, and policies of segregation and hate.

Senator Burris made the following remarks from the Senate floor:

“Slavery and racial segregation have left a tragic legacy that divided this country in the bloodiest war we have yet known. It is a legacy that still affects each and every one of us to this day. My colleagues, Senator Harkin and Senator Brownback, have introduced a resolution apologizing for slavery, Jim Crow laws, and policies of segregation and hate. I applaud my colleagues for their willingness to confront the difficult history we all share. Several state governments have issued similar apologies, but the fact that the blight of slavery was a national concern demands a national response.

“As I look around the Senate floor today, I think of my parents, who never saw this chamber. I think of my grandparents, who never saw this city. And I think of my ancestors, who could dream only of their freedom. My own great, great grandfather was given that freedom--freed from bondage as a slave in the 1860s near Columbus, Georgia. Without a name of his own, he adopted an Army rank as his first name, and took as his last name the County where he had lived, Major Green. And in the span of only those few generations, I stand here in the Senate chamber as the great, great grandson of Major Green on that uniquely American arc of history that has taken my own family from slave to Senator.

“As a nation, we have come a long way. But we cannot turn our backs on the shame of slavery, just as we cannot turn our backs on the rest of the Constitution that at one time embraced it. The greatness of this nation comes from our ability to chart a new course – to shape and reshape the destiny that we share, choosing to reject injustice and cruelty. Choosing to overcome the tragic legacy of past mistakes and look ahead to a brighter future. This resolution cannot erase that terrible legacy, but it can help to heal the wounds of centuries gone by. It can pave the way for future progress.”